Don't dispense of cannabis dispensaries, caution researchers

October 12, 2017, University of British Columbia
UBC Okanagan psychology professor Zach Walsh recently published a study examining the roles independent marijuana dispensaries play in cannabis access. Credit: UBC Okanagan

UBC researchers are cautioning policy makers not to alter a cannabis distribution system that—while not legal yet—works well.

Associate professor Zach Walsh, who teaches psychology at UBC's Okanagan campus, and PhD candidate Rielle Capler, say store-front dispensaries—often under fire by law enforcement and city governments—are a tried and true method of selling cannabis. The pair recently published a study on medicinal cannabis dispensaries and determined customers prefer the independent storefront as opposed to growing their own, or getting it from a dealer.

In Canada, dispensaries are not an authorized source for cannabis, although many operate as 'compassion clubs' selling cannabis for medical—not recreational—purposes. Their research suggests that when recreational marijuana use becomes legal in 2018, the current system of dispensaries should remain.

"Dispensaries do serve a role in our society, especially for some people with chronic illnesses who use cannabis for medicinal purposes," says Walsh. "There is a self-regulatory model that already exists and improvements can be made in a legalized environment."

The study is one of the first to specifically look at the experience of dispensary users. It compared their experiences to those who purchase cannabis through other sources including self-production, and illegal sources, such as friends or street dealers.

"Our study shows there are people who have preferences for dispensaries especially compared to other illegal sources," says Capler. "Our study also provides insight into some of the aspects of dispensaries that the government may want to emulate in the legal framework for both medical and recreational use."

Recently, the Ontario government announced that once restrictions come off next year, it will sell marijuana in dedicated stores run by the province's liquor control board.

While operating under the shadows of provincial laws and city bylaws, dispensaries have thrived in neighbourhoods across Canada. Capler calls the current method a 'natural experiment' that's been underway for decades and says law makers should this keep in mind when addressing regulation policies.

"Dispensaries are not new and they provide a proven, valuable service," she says. "While some are thought of as a nuisance, in reality many of these dispensaries are small, independent, long-standing businesses who serve a dedicated clientele."

For their research, more than 440 people who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes were asked to compare different methods of purchasing cannabis on a number of factors such as quality of product, safety, availability, efficiency and feeling respected. Study participants rated dispensaries highly across most categories with the only prominent negative being that the cost of dispensary product is often higher than from a street dealer.

"Clearly dispensaries are already playing a big role in cannabis access in Canada," Capler adds. "The provincial and municipal governments will have to either look at including them in a legal framework—or drawing on what's working in dispensaries as they build a new model. We want to think this paper may, in some way, guide policy to create a system that works."

Their research, supported by a grant from the UBC Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention, was recently published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Explore further: First medical marijuana dispensary opening in Hawaii

Related Stories

First medical marijuana dispensary opening in Hawaii

August 8, 2017
Dispensary sales of medical marijuana in Hawaii are beginning after patients waited 17 years for a legal way to purchase the drug.

Study finds legal cannabis laws impact teen use

June 27, 2017
A new study by researchers at Dartmouth has found that adolescents living in medical marijuana states with a plethora of dispensaries are more likely to have tried new methods of cannabis use, such as edibles and vaping, ...

Oregon allows sale of pot edibles, oils to general public

June 2, 2016
Medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon may now legally sell edibles and extracts to recreational users who do not have a medical marijuana card.

Medical marijuana dispensaries, patients wait through delays

June 9, 2017
Medical marijuana dispensaries are beginning to open in Hawaii, but they're not allowed to sell their products.

Study suggests state-licensed marijuana canopy enough to satisfy recreational and medical markets

May 13, 2016
The amount of marijuana allowed to be grown by state-licensed producers in Washington is enough to satisfy both the medical and recreational marijuana markets, a University of Washington study released today finds.

Assembly approves medical marijuana dispensaries

June 4, 2013
(AP)—Nevada lawmakers want to give medical marijuana users a legal way to obtain the drug 13 years after voters legalized medicinal pot in the state constitution.

Recommended for you

Drinking may worsen hearing loss at loud concerts

April 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—High-decibel music blasting at big concert venues is a known cause of short-term hearing loss. But new research suggests drinking doesn't help matters, with drunk concertgoers actually moving closer to loudspeakers.

Age affects how we predict and respond to stress at home

April 19, 2018
A recent study finds that older adults are better than younger adults at anticipating stressful events at home - but older adults are not as good at using those predictions to reduce the adverse impacts of the stress.

Low total testosterone in men widespread, linked to chronic disease

April 19, 2018
A male's total testosterone level may be linked to more than just sexual health and muscle mass preservation, a new study finds. Low amounts of the hormone could also be associated with chronic disease, even among men 40 ...

Low-cost anti-hookworm drug boosts female farmers' physical fitness

April 19, 2018
Impoverished female farm workers infected with intestinal parasites known as hookworms saw significant improvements in physical fitness when they were treated with a low-cost deworming drug. The benefits were seen even in ...

What happens to our muscles during spaceflight and when living on Mars?

April 17, 2018
The inactivity of astronauts during spaceflights presents a significant risk to their muscles, says a new study in The Journal of Physiology. Scientists have simulated the impact of 21 day spaceflights on the body, and the ...

Parental diet before conception affects child's health

April 17, 2018
A child's health can be compromised not only by a mother who smokes or drinks during pregnancy, but by the obesity and poor diet of both parents well before the act of procreation, researchers said Tuesday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.