Cover Stories

The Neighborhood Dispensary

Cannabis company Best Daze stays true to its Southside roots and expands as recreational market draws near

Len and Eli Goodman, the father and son behind local company Best Daze, stand in a forest of flowering cannabis, dwarfed by the greenery that stretches over 7 feet high. In between chatting about the warehouse yield surrounding them, they hug one of the potted plants, laughing, and Eli smells some of the bud he’s rubbed on his fingers.

Their passion for the industry and the plant itself is evident, and it’s shared by all of their 53 employees, most of whom are medical cannabis patients themselves, says the younger Goodman, who’s the chief operating officer.

“Everybody growing the medicine, everybody manufacturing and producing, everybody dispensing has a real belief in the importance of what’s taking place and knows that they’re helping people have a better life and feel relieved,” he tells SFR.

Best Daze opened in February 2018 and is expanding as the forthcoming recreational market ramps up, with a new shop on Mercer Street that’s expected to open later this month. The company, which is one of 34 legacy producers that carried over from the medical program and can begin sales to all adults in April, has two other locations in Eldorado and Española.

Anticipating long lines when adult-use sales begin, the Goodmans say their focus will be on protecting access for the patients who have been with them from the beginning.

“They have to be our priority for two reasons,” the elder Goodman says. “One is because we have to assume they really need it for medical reasons, health reasons. But they’re also the people who have supported us all these years. They’re our loyal customers. We’ve gotta take care of our folks.”

Best Daze is one of the only dispensaries on the Southside, and its co-founder was one of the first people in New Mexico to get approval to grow cannabis for medical patients. The family- and worker-oriented company stands out among more than a dozen other options in Santa Fe.

Most of the city’s dispensaries line Cerrillos Road or are clustered on the north side, near downtown. There are a few others on the Southside, mostly on the outskirts: Ultra Health, High Desert Relief and Keyway Marketplace, formerly Shift New Mexico.

But Best Daze is the only cannabis retailer on Airport Road.

Born-and-raised Southsider Andrea Lozano got her start budtending at Fruit of the Earth Organics a few years ago and eventually worked her way up to assistant manager. In 2020, she made the move to Best Daze’s Airport shop as a manager and budtender.

In just a few short years, the company has become a fixture in the community, she says.

“It’s like the neighborhood dispensary,” Lozano tells SFR. “Everyone goes to it. Everyone. I’ll go to smoke with my cousins down the road and there’s a Best Daze bag.”

Best Daze, which grows organic cannabis, also has a warehouse and a kitchen in the area, where workers prepare edibles, drinks and more.

The dispensary’s location on the Southside—where residents have less access to many services and amenities, from grocery stores to parks—didn’t happen by chance.

The Goodmans say the location was of critical importance, in part because it ties into one of Len’s reasons for getting into the business over a decade ago: helping low-income people get their medicine.

“Working people have a higher percentage of pain from work-related accidents and injuries and lack of safety equipment,” he tells SFR. “We realized that this whole medical cannabis business that we had started was catering to a demographic, basically, of poor people in pain…Besides the Southside being underserved from a business perspective, it was a demographic that we had always tried to appeal to.”

Originally from New York, the elder Goodman arrived in New Mexico in 1967 as one of the original members of the New Buffalo commune in Arroyo Hondo.

After settling in Santa Fe in 1971, drawn in by the small town’s climate, mountains and culture, he and his then-wife Roberta started a company called Arius Tile, producing handcrafted tile and murals.

That company eventually dwindled and Goodman started looking for another business opportunity when he came across an SFR story about New Mexico’s budding medical cannabis program, which launched in 2007 after legislative approval and a signature from then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

“I was sitting on the pot, no pun intended, reading the Santa Fe Reporter, and I read that they’d finished the rules and given out a producer license and you could apply for more,” he says. “I ran some numbers and spent a couple weeks trying to see whether I thought it would be viable for another small business, and I decided it was.

I didn’t expect it would be very large, but expected it’d be fun. It would be political action, organic farming, it would be something that would help people medically, not just another silly object.”

Goodman lived in Pittsburgh from high school through graduate school. There, he participated in civil rights, anti-nuclear and anti-Vietnam War activism. He sees his decision to get into the cannabis industry as an extension of those roots.

“The drug war was horrendous and although that hadn’t been one of our engagements in the ‘60s, and I had been out of that activism for a long time, this was a way to get back into it, trying to reverse the social policy and the harm the War on Drugs had done,” he says.

He received a medical cannabis license in 2009, when there were, he says, less than a thousand patients in the state, compared to 127,743 active patients now, according to the latest data from the state Department of Health. He and his then-wife and partner Susan founded New MexiCann Natural Medicine.

The landscape was starkly different back then.

For example: Producers were restricted to 95 plants, so there were regular shortages that were also driven, in part, by the limited number of licenses the state had granted at that time.

New MexiCann harvested every two weeks, made product announcements on Sunday and was sold out by Monday.

Retail stores also weren’t permitted, so patients had to buy their medicine in advance online or over the phone and producers had to deliver it.

“We didn’t do this, but they [other producers] were telling people they would meet everybody in Santa Fe, let’s say, 10 o’clock Wednesday morning in front of Albertsons,” Len Goodman says. “So you’d have this whole crowd of people waiting to do their drug deal, right? It was just crazy. It was a terrible way to service patients.”

Rather than making deliveries in parking lots, he says the company asked the health department if it could operate out of an office and allow patients to pick up their advance orders at their convenience, which the department allowed.

Goodman left New MexiCann in 2015 after he and his wife divorced. Eli Goodman, who’d moved back from Los Angeles three years prior and was running sales and retail operations for the company, joined his father.

“The easiest way to separate two families who are enmeshed in a very difficult family dynamic within the business was to sell my share to the other family, who at the time had been my wife,” he says.

New MexiCann has since had its license revoked following an explosion and fire at its headquarters on San Mateo Lane in October 2020 that severely injured two workers, the second such serious accident at the operation.

The same year the Goodmans left New MexiCann, the state health department opened the door to receive more medical license applications, which had been closed for several years, and the father and son got another license.

Enter Best Daze.

Despite success in the three years since opening on the Southside, starting over had its challenges, including finding grow, manufacturing and store locations and developing a new name and logo.

But in their new venture, the Goodmans have found loyal customers and employees, including Lozano, the budtender and manager.

The 28-year-old started using cannabis medicinally years ago to aid in her recovery from an eating disorder.

“I suffered from bulimia for a very long time, so my therapist actually recommended it,” she says. “I’d been smoking pot my whole life but I’d never really done edibles. That really changed my whole life. I needed it. It helped me eat, get an appetite and digest food without it being so painful.”

She left her job as a casino dealer and started budtending shortly after, first at Fruit of the Earth Organics, where she was working when the coronavirus pandemic began. The switch to curbside service and interacting with impatient people waiting in line in their cars proved challenging, and Lozano was looking for a change.

She moved in August 2020 to Best Daze, which she says is a great place to work.

“They listen to you, they’re not so on you about how you dress,” Lozano says. “They just want you to come to work and have a good attitude and be honest and good to the patients. That’s all they really care about, and it’s really all that matters, honestly.”

Lozano says Best Daze pays its employees well, particularly compared to some other cannabis companies, and offers a 50% discount on products.

“Virtually everyone who works for us, if not everyone, is a medical cannabis patient,” the younger Goodman says. “They have a deep relationship with it and if they didn’t work for us, I don’t think there’d be any less cannabis in their life, there’d just be a lot more money spent on it. So it helps, and patients talking to patients is productive.”

Over the past year, Lozano has managed eight people at the Airport Road store, and is hoping to have a staff of the same size at the Mercer store, which she’ll be managing. She says they work either 9- or 5-hour shifts, which she tries to disperse evenly so as to not overwhelm anyone.

That scheduling strategy seems to line up with the Goodmans’ perspective on work.

“Len and I both strongly believe that quality of life is what is important in work,” says Eli, who has also maintained an acting career over the past two decades and recently starred in a play written by his wife Kristin that opened at the Santa Fe Playhouse. “Everybody has to work and earn a living and take care of their family, but everybody also has other things going on in their life. They have family needs that mean they have to be able to get time off.

“For me, being engaging and playful and light is important and I do my best in conversation with everybody just to talk to them and know what’s up with them, just to make sure that working with us is a positive part of their life and not something that’s dragging them down.”

For Lozano, the best part of the job, along with the work environment, is the relationships she’s built with patients.

“You get super close to these people,” she says. “They bring you Christmas gifts. They bring us food all the time. I love them. And they love us, too. You’re like their therapist for a lot of them. They spend time talking to you and you know that they don’t have other places to go.”

Those relationships can, in another way, be the hardest part of the job, she says.

Sitting in the lobby of the new shop on Mercer Street—yet to open to the public at the time of SFR’s visit—on a Saturday in December, she talks about a patient who recently died from cancer, a diagnosis Lozano says she sometimes found hard to believe was true because he was energetic and “brightened up the whole room.”

Cancer is the qualifying condition for about 5% of medical cannabis patients in New Mexico, according to the health department.

“Once you get that obituary or just news, it’s awful,” Lozano says. “I’ve stood in the top offices at Airport so many times just crying. It’s so hard.”

During a recent morning stop at the Airport Road store, Eli greets a pair of patients, who he knows by name, as a budtender helps them.

Going into the recreational market, patients will be prioritized, he says, adding that while not everyone is classified as a patient, in his view cannabis has medicinal value for all.

“I believe that everybody that uses cannabis does use it for medicinal reasons, regardless of how they’re categorized, whether or not they have a card,” he says. “It’s used at the very least for relaxation and often to ease pain and stress, so it’s medical no matter what to us, but we will put the patients in the program first all the way through.”

With recreational sales set to begin on April 1, the company hasn’t quite settled on the details, but ideas include patient-only lines and medical Mondays.

Other cannabis businesses that have talked with SFR are considering similar strategies.

Earlier this year, business owners and state regulators warned that there would be a supply shortage come April, although Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent Linda Trujillo said last month that she doesn’t expect shortages to be an ongoing issue.

Best Daze has a large surplus built up, according to the Goodmans, who say they don’t anticipate running out of cannabis in 2022.

While the company plans to stay true to its roots, along with the Mercer expansion—which experienced some pandemic-driven setbacks—comes excitement and high hopes.

Construction took a year and a half to complete, in part because materials were held up, the elder Goodman says. The building used to be an auto glass repair center, so the renovation was significant.

Lozano says she had a major role in designing the new shop.

“I definitely chose it for a change,” she says. “He [Eli] was letting whoever was going to start up the store pretty much do the whole aesthetic of it and I was so down. He allowed me to choose the plants and the tables, where everything is going. There was so much freedom. This was like a whole new job.”

Customers at the Mercer store will be able to order through walk-up windows, some dedicated to patients, looking in on a vibrant space covered partly in orange paint. The company chose a bright color to send a message that cannabis use isn’t something that needs to be hidden.

“It’s just an everyday part of life, people using cannabis, and there’s nothing illicit about it. That’s why there’s orange on the wall,” the younger Goodman says. “This is the same as, I suppose, a yogurt store. This is just something you do during the course of your day. ‘I got my bread, I got my milk, I got my weed and I’m going home.’”

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