The state of the cannabis dispensary in the United States

Apr 25, 2019

The modern dispensary is more like a doctor’s office than a fraternity house, and the consumers who frequent its counter do not fulfill the stoner stereotype many would have expected in an industry such as this. Recently, a survey completed by the Brightfield Group found that Baby Boomers are among the most loyal dispensary shoppers, with more than half of the generation shopping at the same dispensary for a year or more.

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In the United States, where shopping for recreational marijuana is legal in only a handful of states, dispensaries have a unique set of responsibilities. Funding, advertising, even hiring a trained and knowledgeable staff is not as easy to come by as it is for other, non-lucrative retailers. Because of their unique situation, consumers are expecting more from their local dispensaries, and these expectations are creating residual effects on neighborhoods and communities.

Cannabis dispensaries have a positive effect on local communities in California, Colorado, and Massachusetts

Having a home near a brand new dispensary could be good news for homeowners in legalized states like California and Colorado. Research completed by realty company Clever found that housing prices in California surged between 2014 and 2019, jumping an average of almost $23,000 in five years. Homeowners living one-tenth of a mile away from a dispensary saw their housing prices climb over eight percent during the same time period, with San Jose seeing the biggest increase of over $300,000 in home values.

Similarly, a study in Denver found that news houses built within a half-mile radius of a new dispensary saw prices increase by 7.7 percent when compared to homes further away from cannabis retailers. Many realtors are responding by seeking out neighborhoods issuing licenses, and more and more potential homebuyers are opening up to the idea of being neighbors with a dispensary.

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If dispensaries bring higher home values with them, then it will decrease the likelihood of increased crime rates, which could inspire more neighborhoods to pave the way for legal cannabis retail. Despite the common fear that dispensaries could increase criminal activity, a recent crime report from local Boston 25 News found that many local communities actually benefited from the opening of a nearby dispensary in March.

Because dispensaries typically come with their own private security personnel, illegal activity in the area has been quite rare. The local news reported that cops were called regarding traffic as the crowds often cause congestion in parking lots and nearby streets, especially where consumers are lining up outside.

Why are some states still opposed to the idea of cannabis dispensaries?

More than half of the country may have legalized medical marijuana, but only ten states have recreational laws on the books. Ballots to pass new recreational legislation in New York and New Jersey failed to get the winning vote in March. Even Michigan, the latest state to legalize recreational cannabis, is seeing local communities “opt out” of recreational licenses and sales.

Why is the industry facing so much resistance? In Michigan at least, it is less about cannabis itself and more about state laws. Many city officials throughout the state are claiming that local governments are not making their expectations of a legal cannabis industry very clear. For example, the ballot last November lumped retail in with cultivation and manufacturing, making many townships uncomfortable with what exactly they were agreeing to.

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“As far as retail shops, a majority of our residents weren’t there yet,” Ken Verkest, supervisor of Michigan’s Harrison Township, told the Detroit Free Press in April. “We don't want to just take a cavalier approach and find out we're stuck with something. It isn’t worth taking a huge risk. This is probably a short-term decision until the state sorts it all out.”

While consumers are quite clear about what they want, states will have a lot to sort out if federal legalization is the ultimate goal. Many state governments want to avoid what is happening in California, where unlicensed dispensaries are running rampant in Los Angeles due to an ordinance that prevents many dispensaries that opened after 2007 from getting an official license. Unfortunately, this means many states will continue playing the waiting game as the cannabis industry works out the best way to streamline the American cannabis dispensary.

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