At first glance, the legalized marijuana industry in Washington state might seem to serve one type of customer: people who smoke pot. But two distinct camps exist. Some customers seek marijuana for recreational use, while others turn to cannabis for medical purposes. It’s something Chris and Allie McAboy, husband-and-wife owners of The Novel Tree in Bellevue, noticed over the course of running their store. That’s why they opened The Novel Tree Medical last April in a storefront next door.

The two shops have separate entrances and very different vibes. The Novel Tree is hip and trendy: touchscreen menus, rock music pouring out of overhead speakers, and shelves stocked with bongs and other paraphernalia. The Novel Tree Medical is a staid, Zen-like environment that feels more like a salon or day spa: private consultation room, soft music, and a row of private counters for one-on-one consultation. There are no bongs or brownies here. Instead, it’s all about tinctures, oils, creams, and other cannabis-based salves aimed to provide chronic pain relief instead of recreational highs.

“What we did next door was a result of hearing our patients’ needs and really realizing and identifying that recreational stores are not for patients,” said Allie. “They are recreational stores for recreational users.”

Many stores choose to sell recreational and medical marijuana under one roof. The McAboys, who opened The Novel Tree in November 2014, have chosen a different route.

“If you have just been diagnosed with cancer, for example, and you want to incorporate cannabis into your life, you probably don’t want to be listening to loud music or to people talk about getting high, or be speaking to someone who maybe doesn’t tend to patients all the time,” added Allie. “We can do it, and a lot of recreational stores can flip from one conversation to the next, but it’s not an ideal environment. Just like you wouldn’t go to a doctor in an open room with a bunch of other people talking about your medical conditions.”

photo by Todd Matthews

The decision to open The Novel Tree Medical was an investment. In addition to paying rent on the original 1,200-square-foot store, the couple now leases an additional 800 square feet for The Novel Tree Medical. They also spent money to build out the new space, and both stores employ 30 people (The Novel Tree opened with fewer than 10 employees).

“It’s a big expansion for us, but it’s totally worth it,” said Chris.

Tera Martin, director of business development at Green Theory in Bellevue, applauds The Novel Tree’s move. Martin said she turned to medical marijuana about five years ago, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28. “A lot of patients that want privacy would definitely appreciate that service,” said Martin. “I think The Novel Tree is just trying to go all out and make the customer feel welcome. They are taking a different approach, which I think is great.”

The McAboys claim — and Martin agrees — they operate the only licensed medical-only marijuana store in Washington state. “Some stores wouldn’t be able to afford it because there is quite a bit of overhead,” said Martin. But Martin also noted stores frequently offer incentives for medical marijuana customers in lieu of opening a separate shop. For example, Green Theory offers a 20 percent discount to customers who hold medical marijuana cards.

Chris McAboy estimated The Novel Tree serves about 500 recreational-based customers per day, while the new medical side serves about 25 customers per day. But the couple is convinced the number of clients will increase as more customers learn about the new store.

“It’s a pretty big (step) given that we don’t have anyone else’s example to follow,” said Allie. “We can hope for the best and believe in the service.”