The cannabis industry is no different than any other inasmuch as it has its own vocabulary. Take the cannabis dispensary versus the cannabis pharmacy. What is the difference? Moreover, does the difference really matter? Yes, it does. Understanding the terms makes it easier to navigate the industry as a new medical cannabis user.

For the record, the differences between cannabis dispensaries and pharmacies are purely semantic. However, the differences are important to some cannabis-based businesses in key states. Retail businesses in Utah immediately come to mind. There, the chosen term matters to business owners and lawmakers alike.

A Medical Cannabis Pharmacy

If you were to talk to the good folks at Deseret Wellness in Provo, Utah, they would refer to their establishment as a medical cannabis pharmacy. What do they do? They dispense medical cannabis products to patients with valid state-issued medical cannabis cards. Deseret Wellness has at least one certified pharmacist on staff at all times.

If you lived across the Utah border in Colorado, you could visit a cannabis dispensary and get the same types of products you would find at Deseret Wellness. In reality, both retail establishments do the same thing. They dispense cannabis products to customers. So why doesn’t Deseret Wellness want to be known as a dispensary in Utah?

Strict Utah Regulations

Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country. Beehive State lawmakers did not universally support the ballot proposition that legalized medical cannabis in 2018. Now that it is the law of the land, they are intent on ensuring that their program remains exclusively medical in nature. Therefore, Utah’s regulations are among the most restrictive.

The environment in Utah is such that regulators do not want to give even the slightest impression that they would consider recreational marijuana use. They expect processors, growers, and retail operations to follow suit. In the case of Deseret Wellness, they don’t want to get on the lawmakers’ bad side. They refer to their business as a pharmacy rather than a dispensary for that very reason.

Along the same lines, company management is averse to the term ‘medical marijuana’. They prefer ‘medical cannabis’ for the simple fact that cannabis generally doesn’t have recreational implications attached to it. Marijuana does.

It is All About Image

When you get right down to it, the difference between a dispensary and a pharmacy is all about image. Referring to your retail outlet as a pharmacy frames the business in strictly medical terms. People will visit your establishment in order to obtain medically approved cannabis products recommended by doctors for treating qualified conditions.

If you are operating a dispensary, you are telegraphing the possibility that your products are not strictly for medicinal use. That’s why retail establishments in states like California and Colorado market themselves as dispensaries.

There may not be an enormous difference in terms of what retail outlets actually do, but there is a significant difference in image. That becomes important for any retail operation looking to promote a specific image commensurate with the market they operate in.

The Evolution Continues

In closing this post, it’s worth noting that the evolution of cannabis industry jargon continues unabated. For example, we are beginning to see the term ‘recreational use’ abandoned in favor of ‘adult use’. Again, it is all about image. Recreational use implies a lack of responsibility and/or regulation. Adult use implies some measure of control.

There really is no technical difference between a cannabis dispensary and pharmacy. Any difference is merely semantic. But to some organizations in some highly conservative states, holding to that semantic difference is worth the effort.

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