If you are a new medical marijuana patient or have not used a marijuana dispensary to get your medication before, you may have some questions about how dispensaries work and how to choose the right one for your personal needs and preferences. Understanding what a medical cannabis dispensary is, how dispensaries work in our state, and how to go about choosing a dispensary will help you feel more comfortable with the process and make it easier for you to get the important medicine you need from a safe, legitimate provider. The following article will introduce you to dispensaries and offer useful guidelines to help you choose one. What are Medical Marijuana Dispensaries? Medical marijuana dispensaries are places where marijuana is distributed for medical use. They are legally allowed under state law in many locations across the United States – spanning the country from California, which was the first state to allow their establishment, all the way to Rhode Island. In states where the medical use of cannabis has been legalized, dispensaries are one of the primary ways that marijuana patients are able to get the medicine they need. Although allowed under state law, the sale or distribution of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. These dispensaries are known by a variety of names, including: Marijuana Dispensaries Marijuana or Cannabis Collectives Marijuana or Cannabis Cooperatives or Co-ops Marijuana Pharmacies Pot Parlors Pot Shops Marijuana or Cannabis Clinics Cannabis Clubs Cannabis Wellness Centers Although they may have a variety of names, legitimate medical cannabis dispensaries have a few things in common. They generally have a relationship with local cultivators, offering marijuana that is grown in surrounding areas. They also usually offer a variety of types of cannabis to aid in treating a number of medical conditions, including cancer, arthritis, AIDs, chronic and nerve pain, glaucoma, seizures, colitis, and more. They operate under state and local laws and maintain the regulations and guidelines required by those laws. They provide a safe and secure way to obtain the medical marijuana you need when you need it. These commonalities ensure that marijuana dispensaries are able to remain open and provide this important service to their local patients. Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in California In 1996 California passed the Compassionate Use Act, allowing the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of certain medical conditions. A later bill implemented an identification card system for patients and caregivers and included other modifications to the original act. With these laws in place, patients throughout the state were able to grow, use, and transport cannabis for medical purposes. Medical marijuana dispensaries soon followed, providing cannabis to patients under state law. California dispensaries are allowed to dispense cannabis legally by following the collective and cooperative cultivation guidelines established in the state. California requires dispensaries to meet certain guidelines and apply for a license in order to operate. Many individuals, groups, and organizations have opened and continued to operate dispensaries in the state, providing an estimated 16 million ounces of marijuana to California patients annually. To dispense medical marijuana in California, a dispensary must abide by the state’s guidelines, complete the necessary paperwork, and maintain certain standards. First and foremost, California requires dispensaries to maintain a non-profit status and prevents them from cultivating or distributing cannabis for a profit. Additionally, growers and patients must join the dispensary as members, and the dispensary is required to properly regulate membership. Only members who join the collective and present the proper medical marijuana ID card are allowed to buy or sell cannabis. Dispensaries are also required to properly track all marijuana that enters and exits their place of business. These records should be securely maintained. In addition to properly securing their files, medical marijuana dispensaries must also establish proper security practices to protect their product and their members. When joining a medical marijuana collective, you may be required to complete certain tasks. The majority of these tasks are required under state law for the dispensary to remain open. This includes completing a written application, presenting your medical marijuana identification card, allowing your card to be copied, providing your recommending establishment’s name and contact information, and signing a contract agreeing not to illegally distribute or supply the medical cannabis you purchase at the dispensary. If you are not asked to complete all of the tasks, double-check to ensure the dispensary is operating with a proper license. Make sure that you have the proper documentation, identification, and information with you on your first visit to ensure you are able to get your medicine as soon as possible. What to Look for in a Medical Marijuana Dispensary? If you need cannabis to treat a medical condition, finding a dispensary is one of the easiest ways to get the medicine you need. Although it is possible to cultivate cannabis yourself, growing can be somewhat challenging and requires a commitment of time and resources. A dispensary provides an alternative to the do it yourself option, allowing you to conveniently get the medical marijuana that has been recommended to treat your condition without the hassle and wait time associated with growing your own. There are numerous dispensaries in the state of California, which can make choosing which one is right for you a little tricky. Before settling on the first dispensary you see, you will want to carefully consider the following important factors. Make sure the medical cannabis dispensary you choose has: A Legitimate License Before choosing a medical cannabis dispensary, it is important that you confirm the legitimacy of their license. According to the California Department of Justice, all medical marijuana dispensaries in California must be properly licensed in order to be considered legal in the state. California state law requires a dispensary owner to complete specific steps to get and maintain their license, including maintaining standards, regulating their membership, properly tracking their product, and maintaining other requirements. A medical marijuana dispensary license protects the dispensary and its clients from potential legal issues. If you choose a dispensary that does not have a license you could risk loss of access to your medicine, delays in getting your medicine, or worse, potential legal or criminal repercussions. A Convenient Location Another important consideration when choosing the right medical marijuana collective or dispensary is the location. Although state law in California allows the medical use of marijuana and the establishment of marijuana collectives or cooperatives to dispense the medication, certain counties have additional laws that prohibit dispensaries from being established within their county lines. If you live in one of these counties, locating a nearby dispensary may be more difficult. There are a variety of medical marijuana dispensary locator options online. You can use a Google search for medical marijuana dispensaries near me, check out listings on popular sites like Yelp or cannabis-focused Weed Maps or Leafly, or stick to the most popular dispensaries as listed in this article from LA Weekly. A Reasonable Price Structure Pricing is an important consideration when it comes to any purchase – especially those that you have to make on a recurring basis. Your medical cannabis purchases are no different. You will want to find a dispensary that has prices that you find reasonable. Dispensaries are legally allowed to set their own prices. According to California-based law firm Shouse California, medical marijuana distributors can charge prices they consider reasonable, offer marijuana in exchange for services, or provide it free of charge. This means that medical marijuana dispensaries prices can differ from location to location even for the same quality of product. To find the best price, it may be a good idea to shop around at dispensaries in your area. A Positive Reputation As with any product or service provider, user reviews are available for most well-established medical marijuana dispensaries. Before joining a collective, determine if other patients had a positive experience by checking out the ratings and reviews available online. You may also want to take an opportunity to meet the staff and determine if they are friendly and knowledgeable. You want a marijuana dispensary that provides you with a good experience, ensures your needs are met, and can answer any questions you might have. This will ensure you feel comfortable getting your medicine when you need it and can help ensure you get the type of cannabis best suited for your condition and treatment goals. Now that you understand more about what medical marijuana dispensaries are and how they operate in the state of California, you are prepared to choose one where you can obtain the medical cannabis you need to treat your condition. By ensuring the establishment you choose is properly licensed, has a convenient location for you, and offers pricing you can afford, you will be able to join a collective that meets your needs and allows you to continue to provide you with regular access to your medication.