Some say walking through the CannaBus door is like taking a trip to Narnia. Others say it feels more like a spaceship.
But one thing is for sure: Inside a busy convention hall, the mock dispensary on wheels is a quiet retreat from the whirlwind of networking and business talk that surrounds the bus walls.
“When you walk on the bus, you forget you’re in a bus,” said Jeremy Jacobs, the CEO of Enlighten, the Kentucky-based cannabis technology company behind “TheRealCannaBus," the bus’s formal name. “It’s a magical thing.”
The 40-foot bus — which rolled into Boston recently for the Northeast Cannabis Business Conference — is decked out with digital menus, interactive kiosks, and even fake marijuana flower, displayed in canisters on the wall.
Jacobs built the bus with three key elements in mind: educating policymakers, connecting cannabis brands with their customers, and expanding potential customers’ minds about what a dispensary can look like.
“The CannaBus solves a lot of problems,” Jacobs said. “The idea of having a dispensary that can mobilize opens up an entirely new world of opportunities to everyone.”
Aside from traveling around to conventions like the Northeast Cannabis Business Conference, the CannaBus also visits state capitals to “show legislators what cannabis actually looks like and be able to put that in an advocacy position to dispel myths about cannabis," Jacobs said.
Everything, from its ambiance to its scent, is built to feel like an actual dispensary.
“We wanted it to feel like an authentic dispensary, and it does because the question we get most often is ‘Are you selling product in here?’” said Kelly Embry, a senior sales representative for Enlighten who greeted conference attendees who boarded the bus at the Hynes Convention Center.
The CannaBus was tucked between booths at the far end of the Hynes exposition hall last week, offering visitors a look at the technology that can be built into dispensaries to educate customers and keep them engaged while they’re waiting in line.
The company’s self-service kiosks, which offers customers a chance to read about items available for purchase while waiting in line, are Enlighten’s most popular item. But the company also offers display screens, on-demand menus that include educational videos, and television programs that can display cannabis news, trivia-like fun facts, and product information.
Jacobs estimated the company’s products can be found in about 1,200 stores worldwide, including in all 33 US states with some form of legalized marijuana and in two other countries, Canada and Jamaica. It is being used in 16 locations in Massachusetts, including Alternative Therapies Group, Berkshire Roots, Curaleaf, and Temescal Wellness stores.
The bus also has a lounge built in the back with couches and air filtration systems — a good place to relax and consume marijuana in places where it is allowed, Embry said.
When it comes to operating the bus, Blake Norris is the expert. He has been driving the purple vehicle around the country for about six months, and he has mastered the technique of maneuvering it in and out of conference halls, expanding its walls once it arrives to give visitors more space to walk around.
The trip inside Hynes was tight — the center’s freight elevator is just about the length of the bus, Norris said — but he made it work.
“I had never done something like this,” he said about his unique job traveling with the CannaBus. “I look at it sort of like a spaceship, traveling to distant places and landing on a new moon.”