Stakes Is High: Matthew Morgan’s Legal Weed Gamble Pays Off
The Las Vegas marijuana mogul reveals the history behind Reef Dispensaries
A line of more than one thousand people wraps around the side of the building, as eager patrons anxiously watch two hands of the clock inch closer to 1 o'clock. When it finally happens, sparks fly from the roof of the 165,000-square foot facility, igniting the Las Vegas Strip’s first 4th of July firework show of 2017. Yet there is a different reason for this celebration. Simultaneously, inside the building, amidst a sea of cameras, microphones, reporters and jars of weed, State Senator Tick Segerblom shakes the hand of Reef Dispensaries CEO Matthew Morgan, before plunking $40 down on the counter to make the first purchase of July 1st. It’s ‘Day 1’ of recreational cannabis sales in Nevada, and in real time, Matt Morgan is watching his business increase exponentially.
Years earlier, a teenage Morgan would find himself dreaming of this moment — or any moment, rather — as he sat on a tractor for countless hours, circling the fields of his family’s six generation Missoula, Montana farm, while staring up at the stars. There were no fireworks back then.
Growing up in a conservative household in rural America, the last position Morgan thought he would land was that of the leading player in Nevada’s recreational cannabis market. In fact, during those formative years, he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do. He gave higher education the old college try; it didn’t take. Determined to find his niche, he sought an apprenticeship from the electrical union. Finding himself entrenched in what he describes as a “cancerous” environment, it didn’t take either. But eventually Morgan found himself whizzing through real estate classes, and by 21 years old was excelling in the business.
"After you get so many doors slammed in your face, it really doesn’t matter anymore.”
“I got very good at cold calling, I got very good at knocking on doors. I also got a lot of rejections, a lot of doors slammed in my face,” Morgan explains. “Early on, that helped me develop thick skin and it made me not care about what anyone else thought about me or about anyone else’s opinion. After you get so many doors slammed in your face, it really doesn’t matter anymore.”
Soon after, Morgan was living successfully off of the real estate game and showing it, by “buying a big house, cars, and all this stuff, like any 22-year-old kid would do.” But things came to an abrupt halt when the 2008 financial crisis hit. Witnessing it unfold on the front lines, Morgan could foresee a gloomy future for the real estate industry, mulling over where his next chess piece would land.
“I was already trying to identify other potential business opportunities that I thought might be the next big thing,” says Morgan. “In my head, I was like ‘What’s the next big thing? Let me get ahead of this thing before it blows out of control to seismic proportions like these other things did.’”
Morgan moved silently for about six months and put his ear to the ground. Spending many nights staring into the blue glow of an LCD computer monitor, Morgan’s extensive research eventually found him returning to his farm boy roots. But the plants he was now interested had a much more potent effect than anything that his family had grown on the homestead.
Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom with Matthew Morgan on July 1st at Reef Dispensaries
“How hard could it be? You have some hippies in tie-dye that grow pot, so I am pretty sure I can figure it out,” believed a young Morgan, before quickly realizing he had a lot to learn. “I soon figured out that it was much harder than I thought it was to grow High Times looking marijuana.”
Beginning with an obsolete “400-watt metal halo light with a silver dome,” Morgan entered a long period of trial-and-error, on a mission to grow quality cannabis.
“So, I went and scraped up some money, rented out a little warehouse space, tried to do some build outs in different ways and explored various methodologies. I finally figured out how to grow correctly pretty quickly,” Morgan reveals. “Over the course of the next ten months, I scaled to about 15,000 square foot operation in Montana, which was one of the larger operations at that time. We were chugging away.”
The medical marijuana industry exploded in Montana, but Morgan saw his wings get clipped just as he was getting close to the sun. In 2010, the state reversed its policy on cannabis, quickly shutting down the industry and forcing Morgan to shutter his budding business.
“Montana is very closed-minded, they want things to stay how they’ve been for hundreds of years. They pow-wowed together, decided this wasn’t going to happen in their state and legislation came in and completely changed the laws,” says Morgan.
But Matt was already one step ahead. Recognizing that a shift in Montana was about to happen, he left the operation in the care of his father, while he moved to Arizona to seek future opportunities. Looking for a way to break into the state’s cannabis market, he opened a chain of hydroponics stores. Even back then he did things on a major scale, with a 37-foot inflatable gorilla perched on the roof of one of his shops.
“It was the perfect springboard to enter into the marijuana space, which is typically more closed off from a cultural standpoint, a bit underground at the time” says Morgan, who used the hydroponics chain to network with members the local cannabis scene.
Was that his plan from the beginning?
“Of course,” he says with a smile.
This path serendipitously led him to a partnership with the son of a very decorated Arizona state senator.
“They were only handing out 131 marijuana business licenses in the whole state, so you had to be someone to get one of these licenses,” Morgan reveals. “They were not going to give some kid who moved there a year and a half ago from Montana one of these licenses, that are essentially a piece of gold on a sheet of paper.”
The two started Bloom Dispensaries in Arizona, and in under a year they quickly built the business to 100 employees, doing over $1m in business per month. It wasn’t long after that the company was approached with a buyout offer from a private investor. Matt was ready to sell, but his partner wasn’t interested.
“The private investor was more than fair in his offer, but the other investors basically looked at the offers in disgust, like ‘I can’t believe you would even present this,’” Matt reveals.
But Morgan trusted his gut and knew it was the right move, which led to his departure from Bloom and a new partnership with the private investor. Together they formed Tryke Companies / Reef Dispensaries in 2014 and the rest is history.
Reef Dispensaries’ 165,000 square foot Nevada cultivation facility and flagship dispensary, located just off the Las Vegas Strip
Fast-forward to today, and it’s clear that it was the right move. Reef Dispensaries operates six locations across Nevada and Arizona, with more than 350 employees and hockey stick growth.
“It’s been a crazy three-and-a-half years,” says Matt, who soaks in the glow of neon lights and matching fireworks that illuminate the city above his building. His smile beams from under a hat that reads ‘Day 1,’ suggesting that he’s only just getting started.
Photography by: Shane O’Neal, Hew Berney, CJ Mele
This article was originally published on Medium, and produced in partnership with Reef Dispensaries.