Cannabis Pharmacies and Dispensaries: Is There a Difference?


Where do people go to legally buy marijuana or cannabis products? Some go to a dispensary while others go to pharmacy. Is there a difference? Yes and no. It really depends on the state and the actual products a customer is buying. If you are confused, welcome aboard.

The cannabis industry has a language all its own. That language is affected by a lot of things including culture, politics, and business. The differences between pharmacies and dispensaries illustrate as much. Those differences are subtle but real.

A Place to Buy

Before we get into the differences between cannabis pharmacies and dispensaries, let us talk about the one thing they have in common. Both types of establishments represent a place to buy marijuana and cannabis products. They are legally established businesses licensed by their respective states. In many cases, they also hold local licenses as well.

It is interesting to note the disparity in dispensaries and pharmacies on a state-by-state basis. California boasts thousands of businesses within its borders. In Utah, there are but fourteen pharmacies. Pure Utah, in Payson, is one of them. Medical cannabis patients can buy their medications at Pure Utah with a valid medical cannabis card.

Medical Cannabis Pharmacy

As long as we are talking about medical cannabis, let us address the medical cannabis pharmacy. This is a retail business licensed by the state to sell medical products. Using Utah as an example once again, their pharmacies can sell both THC and CBD products in a variety of delivery forms:

  • Packaged flower
  • Vaping liquids
  • Tablets and capsules
  • Oils and tinctures
  • Edible gummies
  • Topical lotions.

It is illegal to smoke cannabis in Utah. Anyone choosing to buy packaged flower is expected to either dry heat it or grind it up and add it to food. One other thing to note about Utah: state regulators are very particular about referring to retail businesses as medical cannabis pharmacies. They do not appreciate the term ‘dispensary’.

Perhaps this explains why so many medical cannabis pharmacies in the state insist that the right terms be used in all their marketing. They do not want to give regulators any reason to come down on them. Pure Utah is, by state law, a licensed medical cannabis pharmacy. It is not a dispensary.

Cannabis Dispensary

So what is a cannabis dispensary? In a generic sense, it is any retail business that sells cannabis products. Yet the industry draws a distinction in order to denote the difference between recreational and medical use. In Utah, there are technically no dispensaries because recreational use is not allowed. But in other states, you can have both dispensaries and pharmacies simultaneously.

A dispensary would be the place to go if you wanted to buy recreational marijuana. In states like California and Colorado, anyone over the age of twenty-one can purchase marijuana for any reason. No license or card is required.

In a state that has both dispensaries and pharmacies, there is often a difference in the products being sold. Some states allow medical users to buy and consume higher potency products. Those products would not be sold in a dispensary; they would only be available at a pharmacy. Likewise, the same users might be able to buy larger qualities for medical use.

When you get right down to it, the differences between medical cannabis pharmacies and marijuana dispensaries are quite subtle. Yet they are important to some people, especially those who want to see cannabis remain strictly medical. Both types of businesses share the common ground of being places to buy cannabis products.