Are Cannabis Dispensaries and Pharmacies the Same Thing?

Medical cannabis patients in Utah procure their medicines from a cannabis pharmacy. If you like this article, you may be interested in finding out more about weed in Bangkok. Meanwhile, their counterparts in neighboring Colorado have access to both pharmacies and dispensaries. But aren’t they the same thing? No, despite the words being used interchangeably in some circles.

You could make the case that all medical cannabis pharmacies are dispensaries but not all dispensaries are pharmacies. It is like saying all poodles are dogs but not all dogs are poodles. If you can wrap your brain around that concept, understanding the subtle differences between cannabis pharmacies and dispensaries should be pretty straightforward.

‘Dispensary’ Is a General Term

The word ‘dispensary’ is a general term that can cover any and all retail outlets that sell cannabis. Yet there are states that draw a legal distinction between dispensaries and pharmacies in order to regulate how cannabis is obtained and consumed.

Such distinctions generally classify dispensaries as locations for purchasing recreational cannabis. Consumers make their purchases without medical prescriptions. They do not rely on the advice of doctors or pharmacists. If anything, the only person they look to for advice is the budtender behind the counter.

Pharmacy Is a More Specific Term

By the same token, ‘pharmacy’ is a more specific term. It designates a dispensary that provides only medical cannabis products. Not only that, but a medical cannabis pharmacy also keeps at least one licensed pharmacist on staff to answer questions and review medications.

Another distinct difference between the two is how consumers obtain products. In states with both dispensaries and pharmacies, anyone of legal age can walk into a dispensary and buy cannabis in a variety of forms. Things are different in a pharmacy setting. Pharmacies are for medical cannabis patients. Patients must have valid medical cannabis cards to purchase their medicine.

In Utah, there are no dispensaries. The state has licensed only medical cannabis pharmacies. Deseret Wellness in Park City is one of them. Only valid medical cannabis cardholders can purchase from Deseret Wellness.

Sometimes it is Merely Semantic

We cannot discount the fact that sometimes the distinction between dispensary and pharmacy is merely semantic. Without going through regulations state-by-state, we know there are a handful of states with rules so lax that it doesn’t matter where consumers buy their cannabis. In such cases, there is no practical purpose in trying to distinguish between dispensaries and pharmacies.

Furthermore, is there really a need for medical cannabis patients to pay more at a pharmacy when they can get what they want for less at a dispensary? No. This is why there is the ongoing question of why states continue to maintain both medical and recreational programs.

By design, medical cannabis requires a bit more regulation. But every increase in regulation ultimately leads to an increase in price. Why? Because regulations always cost money. Someone needs to pay for it, and that someone is the retail customer.

Knowing this, it’s difficult for some medical cannabis patients in states with recreational use to justify spending more at a pharmacy. They cannot even justify jumping through hoops to get a medical cannabis card when they don’t need one at a dispensary.

Words Do Mean Things

Despite the terms ‘dispensary’ and ‘pharmacy’ being used interchangeably, words do mean things. States do make a legal distinction between the two types of operations. Whether or not consumers follow doesn’t change things.

A dispensary is designed to accommodate recreational cannabis users. A pharmacy accommodates medical cannabis patients. Both groups have different needs under the law, so a distinction between the two types of retail outlets remains intact. Count yourself at the head of the class if you understand that distinction.