Oak Canna’s Jason Tueni has seen ups and downs in the cannabis business—but his shop has thrived by sticking to his mission of connecting with customers, staying authentic, and remaining true to Michigan’s caregiver culture.
All too often the cannabis industry can be a struggle—against regulations, stigmas, the sheer effort of running the business. Oak Canna has done all that—and made it through to thrive. Now, the brand is giving back, using its experience (bad and good) to help caregivers and those left out by the cost and privilege of running a cannabis business make it.
Sticking to It
It all started in 2015 when Detroit native Jason Tueni and partner Steve Gatie opened their first dispensary, The Clinic at 13815 West 8 Mile in Detroit. Two years later, while going through the licensing process, they received a “cease and desist order” from the city of Detroit and a messy three-year fight in court commenced. “I never really thought they had a right to shut us down,” says Tueni. “Every time we’d win, based on old laws we’d been grandfathered in under, the city would try to deny us based on new laws.” The battle went on and on until November 2020.
At last, Tueni and his crew got a break. After they brought three lawsuits against the City of Detroit, a judge forced the city to award them a license. Oak Canna reopened its legacy location on August 15. A second store is set to open in Warren. Since March, Oak Canna has been operating a cultivation and full-service processing facility, where it’s manufacturing the Petro and Banned edible lines. And those products are currently sold in more than 100 stores throughout the state.
In the middle of all this turmoil, Tueni is most proud of the way his original team has stuck together. “A lot of businesses can’t say that,” he says with a laugh. “My team is so good. I feel sorry for our competitors.” But he does offer those considering joining the cannabis industry some hard-won advice from years of nothing coming easy.
“Don’t give up,” he says. “Whatever you think opening a provisioning center or cultivation facility is going to cost, it’s going to end up being triple that. It’s a very hard process dealing with cities, municipalities, lobbyists, and lawyers.”
Care for the Caregivers
Tueni started his journey in cannabis as a caregiver in 2008. Although he says the process “is not for everyone,” he does believe the caregiver market is key to the industry in Michigan and the ability of individuals to find their place within it. “I care about the caregiver market,” he says. “I never want to us to not care about caregivers.” But it’s often difficult for individual caregivers—who are unregulated—to transition their enterprises to licensed facilities—which are regulated— because of the often overwhelming obstacles they face, something with which he also has experience.
“A lot of talented people learn to cultivate on a small scale as a caregivers,’ he says. “And you don’t have to spend $5 million and harvest three to four years in a row to learn the craft of cannabis. You can get a four-light cultivation set up and learn to create great quality cannabis. Take the time to learn, to educate yourself, and to eventually get tested. Then, once you have a business plan, prepare, prepare, prepare.”
Tueni believes that caregivers were the originators of cannabis culture in the Michigan cannabis industry. “But they were forgotten, left behind when the big suits came in,” he says. “The suits tried to mold the industry to look like they wanted and used caregivers for information. They gave them a couple of checks, but not many were brought to the dance.” As a leader in the regulated adult-use industry, Tueni wants to keep the original caregiver culture alive, while being receptive to a new culture that is “more than one thing.” To that end, Oak Canna has partnered with the FORCE (Faithfully Organizing Resources for Community Empowerment) Detroit and Clean Smoke to identify individuals eligible for social equity and help them move past barriers.
“I hear people say I want in the cannabis space, but I don’t have $5 million,” he says. “And I say you don’t need $5 million—you just need some packaging, marketing, and product. We’ll get you in on our license.” Oak Canna plans to launch its first 12- to 18-month accelerated mentorship program before the end of the year. “We’ll start participants at the bottom of the employment hierarchy, and every two months, move them into a new position. Then, if, after 12 to 18 months, we believe they’ve met the qualifications, we’ll back them ourselves, becoming a dispensary owner and partner with them.” They’re also doing this at the cultivating and processing stage, says Tueni. “It’s very important to us. It’s how we’re going to get involved with the community.”
That willingness to connect, coupled with a commitment to preserve and grow Michigan’s cannabis culture, is what sets Oak Canna apart; it’s what will help it thrive going into the future. And that future looks bright based on the 900 people per day who currently visit Oak Canna’s two locations. Sure, they’ve got some of the best cannabis on the market, but they’re also “100 percent transparent to our customers,” says Tueni. “We’re about our clients and how good we can make this cannabis and hit the core of our customers.”