Medical cannabis dispensaries differ distinctly from recreational weed dispensaries in most states. As more states permit recreational weed, they tend to allow established medical cannabis dispensaries to have first crack at selling recreational weed. The canna-economy is betting that they will all be the same sooner or later.
Until that time, a medical marijuana dispensary will always fall short compared to recreational weed dispensaries.
The election of 2016 did increase the number of states legalizing and/or decriminalizing medical and recreational cannabis. But, the political elections also indicate that the momentum towards more opportunities may have slowed, at least until President Trump and Attorney General Sessions straighten out their policy signals.
That leaves differences within medical cannabis legislation. Sixteen states now permit doctors to prescribe or recommend administration of CBD oil. Each state spells out its own regulations. But, in general, they permit use of cannabidiol, sometimes known as “Charlotte’s Web”, for treatment of specific conditions including intractable epilepsy and involuntary muscle contractions.
The regulations usually cap the THC content at 0.7%, and a few states permit treatment of other physical and neurological conditions not responding to conventional treatments. Selling one product is not enough to keep a brick and mortar medical cannabis dispensary in business.
So, in those states that permit CBD as the only medical cannabis therapy, patients do not have the benefit of medical cannabis dispensaries. Patients are protected against penalties for purchase and possession, but having registered with the state, they must order product online, have it administered by the prescribing doctor, or “smuggle” the product across state lines from jurisdictions that have full-fledged medical cannabis dispensaries.
Similarities and differences
Basically, the experience at the medical cannabis dispensary and the recreational marijuana dispensary is pretty much the same.
Shilo Urban, writing for Organic Authority, says, “You enter the licensed, regulated dispensary, usually past a security guard. Prepare to show your ID. Most dispensaries have a waiting room or lobby that is separate from the sales floor where you find the product. Because dispensaries handle large amounts of cash and/or expensive goods, they usually have heavy locked doors that you must be buzzed through to enter. Sign in, and wait for your name to be called.”
When you are called to enter, you must provide your “prescription” or recommendation for them to process, and you must prepare to renew it each year. The dispensary usually provides you with an I.D. card for future use. You pick your product from the stock displayed or the edibles and cannabis-derived products permitted by law. They package the purchase for you, and you pay.
Important! You will pay lower taxes on medical marijuana products if you are a registered patient user.
Once you are in the recreational marijuana inner room, you will find more attractive displays of a larger variety of buds and products. Competition continues to drive recreational dispensaries to design attractive interiors, hire professional budtenders, and emphasize the customer shopping experience. So, you’ll find them more attractive and comfortable.
This, again, depends on the state regs. For instance, according to PotGuide, you can get more potent product in medical dispensaries than recreational ones. In Washington, there is not difference in potency. And, Oregon is still working out the differences.
Adult-use dispensaries only require proof of age may offer customers a wider range of cannabis strains and derivatives. They may also sell accessories, vaping equipment, glass products, and apparel. While some medical dispensaries sell books and videos, they relate directly to the medical application. Recreational dispensaries offer a larger selection of literature and informational videos.
Some recreational dispensaries offer additional services like spa treatments, and others promote local artisans. Because of their size and market, recreational marijuana dispensaries may also focus on locally grown or organic products appealing to those looking for experience and buzz rather than curative powers. Where medical dispensaries stock products with THC:CBD values specific to a range of medical problems, adult-use stores stress variety, quality, and potency.
They’re different business models.
If you think about a medical pharmacy like Walgreen’s or CVS, their job is to prepare and supply medical pharmaceuticals. But, you will also find snacks, some groceries, magazines, greeting cards, and other inventory. Still, they exist to supply pharmaceuticals, and everything else offers their customers convenience.
On the other hand, they do not present the variety of greeting cards you’ll find at the Hallmark Store, the groceries you’ll find at a supermarket, or the snacks you’ll find at Walmart. For the medical marijuana dispensary, those extra services are secondary. The recreational marijuana store, however, is in the business of providing a wide variety of product, responding to customer feedback, and competitive presentation.
In the states where adult-use has been fully legalized, the days of the distinctly separate medical marijuana dispensary are numbered. That’s why they are given the first shot at securing adult-use licenses. But, some patients worry that attention to their distinctly medical needs will get lost in the drive to compete for adult-use business.
Kimberly Cargile, a Sacramento medical marijuana pharmacy owner, explained to Jefferson Public Radio how she sees things. “We will stay medical," Cargile says. "There are plenty of legit patients who come to us who really need our services. We believe that we’ll be able to stay sustainable in the face of quite a bit of competition from recreational stores.”
Despite the drive to compete and expand by recreational marijuana dispensaries, Cargile goes on to say, "We’ve been providing services for serious patients. We’ve kind of built a niche where someone who is just trying to get high and get some weed doesn’t really waste their time and money here cause it’s a lengthy process and we’re probably the most expensive place in town.”
Still, so long as the two systems have regulatory differences in taxes and amount in possession, they are likely to co-exist. But, where recreational use is permitted, the marketing pressure will favor their business model.