Why Are They Called Cannabis Dispensaries?

When people want to make a legal cannabis purchase, they first visit a legal cannabis dispensary. If you’ve never gone before, there are certain tips that can make the experience better. But one might still wonder: why is it called a dispensary in the first place?

The term actually refers to a type of business that specializes in one type of product. A cannabis dispensary focuses on cannabis and cannabis-related products. It offers people the chance to buy cannabis flowers, edibles, tinctures, oils, and other cannabis-related products.

Using the term “dispensary” also connotes a level of professionalism and legitimacy lacking around the cannabis industry in the early days. People now associate the term with a legitimate, reputable business that specializes in all things marijuana.

Companies created marijuana dispensaries because federal law prohibits pharmacies from filing cannabis prescriptions. That’s because despite becoming legal in 22 states for recreational use and 39 for medical use, cannabis is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government.

The Creation of Cannabis Dispensaries

In the early days before legalization began to sweep the country, people had to either grow their own cannabis or rely on illegal drug dealers to obtain it. With legalization, states allowed the establishment of dispensaries as a safe and regulated way for patients to buy cannabis without having to grow it themselves.

Dispensaries provide a controlled environment where patients can obtain cannabis products that have been tested for purity, potency, and safety. The first public dispensary opened in San Francisco in 1992, according to High Times, operated by marijuana activist Dennis Peron.

Medical Dispensaries

Medical dispensaries now operate in more than half of the states, with 39 states now allowing the sale of cannabis to people with certain medical conditions. Those conditions vary depending on the state, but typically include treating the symptoms of those undergoing cancer treatments and those with epilepsy, chronic pain and, in some states, post-traumatic stress disorder.

States require that people sign up for a state program to receive a medical marijuana card, making them eligible to make purchases at a medical cannabis dispensary. Some states also require a doctor’s prescription.

Recreational Dispensaries

Recreational dispensaries allow anyone over the age of 21 to buy cannabis and cannabis products for recreational use. This type of adult-use cannabis is now legal in 22 states, with more expected to follow in the next few years.

In some states, medical and recreational marijuana establishments are separate. In order to make a purchase, adults have to present a state issued ID card, such as a driver’s license. While this makes it easier to purchase recreational cannabis, many  people with medical cards buy cannabis at a medical dispensary only because it typically has less taxes placed on the purchase price.

The first sale at a legal recreational dispensary happened in January 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The buyer was Sean Azzariti, a then-32-year-old Iraq War veteran who said he used cannabis to alleviate PTSD symptoms. At the time, the medical cannabis laws in Colorado did not cover PTSD, but that changed in 2017.

Azzariti bought an eighth of an ounce of the marijuana strain Bubba Kush and a package of marijuana-infused candy truffles, according to the Denver Post. The purchase cost Azzariti $59.74, including $10.46 in tax.

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