States that allow medical cannabis tend to control distribution by limiting access. They require patients to buy their cannabis products at licensed pharmacies staffed by certified professionals. And even though these facilities are referred to as pharmacies by state officials, they are drastically different from the corner pharmacies from which we purchase the rest of our medications.
They are different by design. Medical cannabis dispensaries, like the Beehive Farmacy locations in Salt Lake City and Brigham City, Utah, are tightly regulated by state law. The regulations are intended to control how they operate so as to ensure medical programs remain strictly medical.
If you are new to the medical cannabis community, here are four ways cannabis pharmacies differ from their traditional counterparts:
1. Exclusive Products
First and foremost, cannabis pharmacies are exclusive in the products they sell. This exclusivity works in two ways. From the cannabis pharmacy’s point of view, medical cannabis and the devices and supplies necessary to use it are the only products on the shelf. They do not sell OTC medicines. They do not fill other prescriptions.
Exclusivity is also demonstrated in the fact that traditional pharmacies cannot carry medical cannabis products. You are not going to go into your local Walgreens and find THC vape cartridges or cannabis gummies. You will not find cough medicine and baby wipes on your next visit to Beehive Farmacy.
2. Controlled Access
Another significant difference is access control. Anyone can walk into a traditional pharmacy. You don’t have to be an adult. Kids can go to the neighborhood pharmacy to buy candy and coloring books. Their parents can stop by to get everything from aspirin to a six-pack of soda. Not so with a cannabis pharmacy.
In those states allowing for medicinal use but not recreational, having access to cannabis pharmacies requires a state-issued medical marijuana card. If you were to attempt to visit Beehive Farmacy without a card, you would not be allowed entry. You even have to have a valid card to purchase their products online.
3. Pharmacy Availability
Taking access one step further, cannabis pharmacies also differ in terms of their availability. In Utah, only fourteen cannabis pharmacies have been approved for the entire state. There may very well be more than fourteen traditional pharmacies in Salt Lake City alone. There are likely hundreds in the state.
Limiting cannabis pharmacy licenses is a way to control distribution. Whether or not pharmacy availability should be restricted is a matter of debate. Such limited availability often forces people to drive long distances to get their medicine. And even in states where home delivery is allowed by law, someone still has to do the driving.
4. Making Payment
Be sure to take cash with you on your first visit to a cannabis pharmacy. Why? Because those able to take debit and credit cards are still in the minority. Things are slowly changing in this regard, but most medical cannabis pharmacies are still cash-and-carry operations.
The reason for this is as simple as federal law. Because cannabis is still a Schedule I controlled substance, banks don’t want to get involved by offering their services to pharmacy operators. Without a bank, a pharmacist cannot accept credit or debit cards.
On the other hand, traditional pharmacies accept all sorts of payment methods. Cash, credit cards, debit cards, and check; it’s all good to them.
Though cannabis pharmacies and their traditional counterparts perform similar functions in terms of dispensing medical products, the practical applications of how they operate make for drastically different environments. That is probably unlikely to change in the near future.