Marijuana Dispensary vs. Cannabis Pharmacy: What’s the Difference?

So much of the language surrounding the state-legal marijuana industry is ambiguous, at best. At its worst, it is downright confusing. Take the terms ‘marijuana dispensary’ and ‘cannabis pharmacy’. They are easily understood by seasoned marijuana users. Not so for people who are new to state-legal marijuana.

One of the things both marijuana dispensaries and cannabis pharmacies have in common is their nature as retail outlets. Dispensaries and pharmacies are the outlets through which consumers buy legal marijuana products. They are the legal marijuana equivalent of a home electronics store.

Both Are Dispensaries

Another thing that two types of outlets have in common is that they are both dispensaries. They both dispense marijuana products according to state regulations. Note that they do not ‘sell’ in the traditional sense of the word.

The differences between selling and dispensing might be minimal, but they exist, nonetheless. Selling is a very broad term that covers an unlimited number of retail products and services. Dispensing is more specific. Just about every English dictionary defines dispensing in medical terms.

A dispensary is some sort of facility involved in the preparation and distribution of drugs. It was the term chosen way back when the push for medical marijuana first started. And because the term stuck, the state-legal marijuana industry just adopted it to recreational use.

Recreational Marijuana at Dispensaries

These days, a marijuana dispensary sells recreational marijuana products. Depending on state regulations, a dispensary can sell everything from unprocessed marijuana flower to manufactured products including vape cartridges, edibles, tinctures, etc.

Recreational products don’t have to be of any particular strength or delivery method. Their standards for quality and purity may be lower compared to medical products, at least in some states.

Medical Cannabis and Pharmacies

In order to distinguish between recreational and medical dispensaries, the term ‘pharmacy’ was adopted. So when a patient buys cannabis from a medical cannabis pharmacy, they are getting a medical-grade product intended to treat some sort of medical condition.

In states like Utah, where cannabis pharmacy Beehive Farmacy says recreational use remains illegal, there is no distinction between recreational and medical-grade product. It is all medical grade. All medical cannabis in Utah needs to meet the highest standards of purity and safety.

In neighboring states with both medical and recreational use, there are clear differences between the two types of products. Medical-grade cannabis is of a higher quality. It is subject to more rigorous testing. Some states even have specific labeling requirements to ensure that medical cannabis patients know exactly what they are buying.

The Terms of Sound Nicer

There is no denying that the pro-marijuana movement has done its best to soften the language surrounding legal marijuana so as to take the edge off. That could be why the term ‘dispensary’ was first adopted in the early stages of the medical marijuana movement. But the same softening of the language exists today.

‘Dispensary’ sounds better than ‘pot store’. And because the meaning of ‘dispensary’ has been changed to delineate recreational marijuana sales, the word ‘pharmacy’ sounds nicer when you’re talking about medical marijuana products.

That’s certainly the case in Utah, where the state is very particular about referring to retail outlets as medical cannabis pharmacies. They want to make it clear that state acceptance of marijuana is limited to medical cannabis only.

Now you know the differences between marijuana dispensaries and medical cannabis pharmacies. Are those differences merely semantic? Perhaps. But if you are part of the legal marijuana community, it still helps to know what people are talking about when they use the two terms.

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