What Is a Medical Marijuana Dispensary?

In the United States, some states allow people with legitimate health issues to legally purchase medical marijuana from a dispensary.
Critics of medical marijuana say that it often falls into the hands of recreational users.
Marijuana plants.
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  • Written By: Matt Brady
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2014
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A medical marijuana dispensary is a location permitted to sell legal medical marijuana, or medical cannabis, so long as the buyer meets certain criteria qualifying them to use the drug strictly for medicinal purposes. Medical marijuana dispensaries are run out of a variety of locations, including residential homes, office buildings, and health-and-wellness centers. Owners of such businesses have had to go through the proper paperwork and procedures in order to become legally permitted and licensed by their regional authorities to grow and sell medical marijuana.

One can become a customer at a medical marijuana dispensary — given that the region lived in has legalized them — if he or she suffers from any ailment listed by that region as acceptable to be treated with medicinal marijuana. First, though, it is necessary to consult a doctor, not only to find out what conditions may be treated with cannabis, but also to obtain a prescription. Without a doctor's prescription, a medical marijuana dispensary cannot legally sell medical weed. Once a prescription has been obtained, a doctor or pharmacist may be able to help the patient locate a nearby dispensary; there are also directories available on the Internet.


The emergence of the medical marijuana dispensary is a unique part of the ongoing debate in the United States over whether marijuana should be legalized, and if so, at what levels. Although medical marijuana dispensaries are, in theory, intended to be legal conduits for the sale of medical marijuana, the legality of their existence is something of a riddle. In the United States, the practice of administering marijuana for any purpose, including medicinal ones, is still considered a federal offense. Therefore, any medical marijuana dispensary is technically a breach of federal law. Nevertheless, a steadily increasing number of states have legalized medical marijuana in spite of the federal government, leading to a surge in the number of medical marijuana dispensaries across the US.

The tug-of-war between states and the federal government over medical marijuana dispensaries has changed over time, with policies varying by administration. Although the exact form of medical marijuana dispensaries will likely continue to mutate with state and federal laws, such businesses may remain a growing and increasingly legitimatized aspect of American life. The main question may not be whether legal dispensaries will exist in the future, but by what standards.


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