Cannabis dispensaries in the United States

Cannabis Station, a medical cannabis dispensary in Denver, Colorado

Cannabis dispensaries in the United States or marijuana dispensaries are a local government regulated physical location, typically inside a retail storefront or office building, in which a person can purchase cannabis and cannabis related items for medical or recreational use. First modeled in Amsterdam in the late 1970s where they were innocently called coffee shops it would take the Americans more than a generation to successfully duplicate the idea of a retail cannabis storefront. Unlike the Dutch coffee shops, today dispensary customers are prevented from consuming cannabis on the site of a regulated dispensary in all known markets.

In a traditional Medical cannabis dispensary store a patient receives cannabis medication as allowed per the patients doctors recommendation.[1] These dispensaries sell cannabis products that have not been approved by the FDA and are not legally registered with the federal government.[2]

As of 2016 there are state regulated marijuana dispensaries in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington DC.

A cannabis dispensary differs from similar retail stores known as head shops, in that only state licensed cannabis dispensaries are authorized to sell cannabis.[3]


The first dispensary San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was founded in 1992 by Proposition 215 coauthors "Brownie Mary" Rathbun, Dennis Peron and Dale Gieringer.[4]

Washington state becomes the second state in the U.S. to develop a regulatory framework for marijuana dispensary operators improving the access to cannabis patients beyond the caregiver model.[5]

The term "marijuana dispensary" in the United States is most often used to refer to private organizations or companies that sell cannabis, particularly in the states of California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon. "Cannabis dispensary" is starting to become a more politically correct term as conscientious people prefer the use of the word cannabis which avoids using the more common Spanish slang word "marijuana".

Medical dispensaries

Twenty three of the United States regulate some form of medical cannabis sales despite federal laws.[6] As of 2016 seventeen of those states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington, D.C.) have at least one medical marijuana dispensary, with varying product laws.[7]

Recreational dispensaries

Today only four states Alaska (Alaska Measure 2 (2014)), Colorado (Colorado Amendment 64), Oregon (Oregon Ballot Measure 91 (2014)) and Washington (Washington Initiative 502) currently regulate recreational sellers.[8] These are stores where any adult 21+ can enter to purchase cannabis and or cannabis smoking accessories.

Notable dispensaries

Harborside Health Center, Oakland and San Jose, CaliforniaSteve DeAngelo, C.E.O.Harborside is considered the "largest pot shop" in California[9] and was featured in a four-part reality show.[10] It is hard to verify such a claim as the state does a very poor job regulating the industry and therefore few reliable records actually exist. Harborside Health Center has been doggedly pursued as a criminal enterprise by the western region Department of Justice Attorney General for the Northern California Region, Melinda Haag. The City of Oakland tried to help the marijuana dispensary by filing a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, but the effort was thrown out by a federal magistrate.[9]

Kind for Cures was the first shop to make national press by taking over a defunct KFC.[11]

Locating services

As dispensaries grow in popularity, several locating services such as Weedmaps and Leafly.[12] It is not uncommon for a regional independent newspaper who offers a marijuana dispensary locating service or map.[13]

Case law

WeedWars is a four-part reality show broadcast on the Discovery Channel which highlights the Harborside Health Center in Oakland California, a medical marijuana dispensary.[14]

The third episode of the 14th season of South Park is named Medicinal Fried Chicken and contemplates a marijuana dispensary taking over a recently failed fast-food chicken restaurant named "KFC".

Popular American comedian D. L. Hughley's short lived and controversial news program on CNN ends with the artist visiting a California dispensary to treat back pain.


  1. Lee V. Barton (2007). Illegal Drugs and Governmental Policies. Nova Publishers. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-60021-351-9.
  2. Brian F Thomas; Mahmoud ElSohly (2015). The Analytical Chemistry of Cannabis: Quality Assessment, Assurance, and Regulation of Medicinal Marijuana and Cannabinoid Preparations. Elsevier Science. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-12-804670-8.
  3. David Neubauer; Stephen Meinhold (2013). Judicial Process: Law, Courts, and Politics in the United States. Cengage Learning. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-133-71178-0.
  4. David M. Fahey; Jon S. Miller (2013). Alcohol and Drugs in North America: A Historical Encyclopedia: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 124. ISBN 978-1-59884-479-5.
  5. History of Washington State marijuana laws National Conference of State Legislators
  6. Ann O’M. Bowman; Richard C. Kearney (2015). State and Local Government. Cengage Learning. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-305-38847-5.
  7. "State Medical Marijuana Laws". National Conference of State Legislatures. 2016. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  8. Guido H. Stempel III; Thomas K. Hargrove (2015). The 21st-Century Voter: Who Votes, How They Vote, and Why They Vote [2 volumes]. Ohio University. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-61069-228-1.
  9. 1 2 "Harborside Health Center Lawsuit: Judge Dismisses Oakland's Suit On Behalf Of Pot Shop". The Huffington Post. February 19, 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2016.3
  10. "World's Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary" December 1, 2011. Weed Wars, Discover Channel 2011
  11. John Geluardi (2016). Cannabiz: The Explosive Rise of the Medical Marijuana Industry. Taylor & Francis. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-317-26282-4.
  12. Nate Linhart (2016). "Medical marijuana lobbyist fights recreational marijuana initiative". Suntimes. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  13. "Denver Marijuana Guide". Westword. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  14. McKay, Hollie (December 8, 2011). "'Weed Wars' Goes Inside Medical Marijuana Dispensary". Fox News. Retrieved January 22, 2016.

Further reading

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