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The High Cost Of A Marijuana Dispensary


medical Marijuana Dispensary long beach campaignThe Boston Globe reported that 181 applicants were received by the commonwealth’s thirty-five potential medical marijuana dispensaries.  Massachusetts’ medical marijuana law specifies there may be no more than five dispensaries in any one of the seven counties in the state.

Of these applications, 22 have been rejected and one applicant withdrew.  Among the reasons cited for rejection were failure to incorporate as a non-profit organization and failure to show liquid assets in excess of $500,000.  The 158 remaining applicants are now eligible to submit a $30,000 non-refundable dispensary application fee, which should bring in over $4.7 million for the government.

Massachusetts is not alone in charging would-be dispensary operators non-refundable fees and requiring massive amounts of cash on hand.  In Arizona, applicants have to prove they have $150,000 in startup capital.  If they can prove that, then there is the $5,000 non-refundable application fee to pay.  The 126 dispensary operators who applied therefore dropped $630,000 into state coffers.

Nevada’s recently-passed dispensary law requires proof of $250,000 in liquid assets before you can even apply for the permit.  If you’ve got that covered, you then drop another $5,000 in a non-refundable application fee, then if you’re approved, another $30,000 for your initial license.  By law, it’s possible for about 60 dispensaries to open in Nevada, bringing in at least $2.1 million for the state.

Throughout the fifteen medical marijuana states that have or will have operating dispensaries, many have non-refundable application fees in the thousands on top of the annual licensing fees.  Washington DC requires $5,000 to apply and $10,000 to license.  New Jersey requires $2,000 to apply and $20,000 to license.  Vermont requires $2,500 to apply and up to $30,000 to license.

Growers – or “producers” – don’t get off lightly, either.  Colorado requires a cultivator to pay a $1,200 application fee and $2,750 for an annual license.  Nevada will charge $3,000 annually to producers.  New Mexico requires a $1,000 application fee and up to $30,000 licensing.  In Connecticut, it will cost a whopping $25,000 fee to apply to be a grower and $75,000 a year to maintain the license.

With these massive upfront costs, it is no wonder dispensary marijuana ends up costing the same or more than black market marijuana.  But if you thought you’d just grow your own and avoid the cost, think again.  If you’re in Arizona*, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts*, New Hampshire, or New Jersey, you don’t get the option of growing your own medicine at home.

* Arizona only allows home grow if you’re farther than 25 miles from a dispensary, which now only applies to 4.8% of the population.  Massachusetts allows home grow only for case-by-case “hardship exemptions”.

Source: National Cannabis Coalitionmake a donation

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About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.


  1. I would like to think that legalization will bring about different customer bases, so that the “illegal” drug dealers will still be able to make money in the new economy. If they want to overprice the market, they are welcome to try. I do hope, however, that the medical cannabis industry will be able to compete with ALL markets. We’re talking against Big Pharma, now-legal drug dealers, Wall Street-financed enterprises, etc., etc. It’s what happens when the “free market” is given free reign to tax and regulate, as activists have been proposing all along. But the medical cannabis market is a niche that may have to work hard not to be overcome by their competitors.

    What I see happening, which I am unhappy about, is that the medical marijuana market will probably end up catering more to people with enough money to afford the top-quality strains. The dispensaries may have to do so just to stay in business. I understand, sure, but without insurance to cover medical cannabis, it is quickly becoming out of my financial reach. I don’t see any news or information about activists trying to work with health insurance companies or Medicare and Medicaid to get these institutions to humanely and affordably cover medical cannabis. If you know of any efforts in this area, please let me know.

    The DEA and law enforcement are looking for ways to keep the drug war going, and the way the new laws are being written look very scary and very bad for MMJ patients. To keep out of the way of law enforcement (hard to figure out how to do that these days), I think being involved with a local grower and a small group (away from the commercial market) may help to ease my fears of law enforcement. So of course I am considering it, but I’m not sure how to find a “local grower.” I thought my local store-front dispensary was considered a “local grower.” I ask questions of the dispensaries I utilize and don’t always get the answers. And I don’t know how to proceed. Perhaps you can give me some advice?

    When comparing quantity to quality, and looking at different dispensaries, how many patients do you think would be considered… too many for one dispensary? In which quality is sacrificed for quality? Dispensaries in my state hardly advertise via the internet at all, so where would I find a listing for the local growers in my area? If you have the time, I’d really appreciate some help. Thanks!

  2. When they “legalized” Cannabis for medical use, they knew exactly what “they” were doing. Making sure the cartels get their share of the profits, disguised as “regulatory fees and licensing.” As a personal grower of my own Cannabis, I understand the cost to grow GREAT Cannabis. It takes time, trial-and-error, love and care. You can’t just pop a seed and expect dispensary-quality medicine. It just doesn’t work that way, or so I’ve learned. I believe dispensaries SHOULD be able to make a profit, but most of that “profit” should be funneled back to the grower, and to the PATIENT’S as cost savings.

    However, I don’t think that $20 and $25 for a gram is anything but pure greed. And as you said, the only people who can afford to open them at such prices are dealers and the wealthy. So the street dealers setup shop legally and take their $20 per gram prices right along to their newly-legal street dealing license a.k.a “retail” dispensary. That’s why these dispensaries are here today, gone tomorrow. No real activism supporting them, no unions, and most are run and staffed by thugs, goofballs or uninformed “model-types” who couldn’t help a patient choose a strain for their ailment if they were paid $1,000,000 to do it.

    If you learn to grow your own, you will ALWAYS have what you want. There’s a learning curve but it’s worth it!
    or…if you know a grower, go directly to him or her and you will most likely get medicine at 50% lower than street value. And small growers don’t concentrate on QUANTITY as they do QUALITY! Commercial growers push profit more than anything in most cases. Support small growers and/or grow yourself and live happily ever after!

  3. I do not think that caregivers are just in it to get rich, but they have to make a living too, right? I wish I could afford the extra help — perhaps in the future.

    I suppose it would be nice to be stoned, but when you are dealing with such high pain levels, getting “stoned” or high is not really possible. Especially after a quarter of a century of constant pain. I have given up on doctors (finally) and anyone else who would have any kind of control over me as a patient. I don’t want to have to depend on anyone but myself, know what I mean?

    Caregivers play a VITAL role in cannabis issues and I would like to see more blogs (or whatever) and information by caregivers posted to cannabis websites. Pain patients are looking for answers and the medical community doesn’t have any, so caregivers need to STEP UP. Start a union. Wiggle yourselves into the conversations, into the MMJ industry, and get your voices and opinions heard. We’re all listening, believe me. :)

  4. Michael Mannor on

    Well I try to match the strain to the illness. There are many types to choose from and a good caregiver will grow what you need. I have given away much to those that can’t afford it and do what I can to help. As a caregiver I can suggest strains that are specific to the illness and would experiment with you to find what works best. That’s the job of a caregiver, not to get rich. Like anything it’s overhead. Now when you speak of Great Medicine it’s also what are you looking to get out of it. Do you want to get stoned or use the herb to cure or relieve. It also falls on you to tell the caregiver what is working for your specific need. As you say though it is your final choice in the end. Also there is so much information now that you can research and help a caregiver understand your need.

  5. Trust me doctor’s will make a nice tidy sum. I’m just going to go on doing what I do and get it from my own people. I’m not paying any damn doctor or some greedy corporation money that is not possible to do. I knew this would happen so I’ll go to my man. Same quality and still the same damn price

  6. firetheliberals on

    Compare these vice taxes to a liquor store? Are they even close. Geez, the price we, the consumer, will have to pay for sanity..

  7. Shayna Lynn Ferguson on

    Government gets the blame, but it’s really corporations and the rich pulling the strings. Just they did when they made it illegal in the first place. Politicians do what they’re told to by big money, not the people.

  8. Compassion is a great thing, but I’m looking more for good medicine. (Correction, GREAT medicine.) Am I being too blunt? I mean, overall, would it be cheaper to go through a caregiver? It would be nice to have someone to help me learn about how to use cannabis, but to me that’s kinda like paying for a doctor to tell me something I can find out about on my own. Experimentation is part of the process. And sure, it would be nice to have a cannabis strain made just for moi, but designer medicine is for people with disposable income.

    I love buying organic fruits and vegetables, but they are usually around twice the price. With a limited amount of funds, one must pick and choose… Should I pay double for these great heirloom tomatoes, or put that money toward my medicine? Should I spend the money to learn how to vape (or vap, or whatever), or should I just go “old school”? Decisions, decisions, all based on money. I don’t think a caregiver can help me with that… :(

  9. Michael Mannor on

    That’s why it’s best to deal one on one with a caregiver. We care and have compassion for those that suffer.

  10. When you look at expenses like this, you can kinda see why costs are so high at dispensaries. By the same token, I read about how little it costs (per gram) to grow my medicine, and I have to wonder why there is such a LARGE gap in prices… Sure, quality costs more, but, really? I want to think that the cost will eventually come down, but how long do I have to wait?

  11. Michael Mannor on

    This just guarantees the well off get to make more money off of sick people. Screw dispensaries with there 20-25 dollar grams. The government is working on pure greed and once again the little guy gets screwed. This is one more example of over reach of the government. It also will push good people to do bad things. It needs to be legalized and then not handed over to the Rich n greedy

  12. Looks like the only people who can afford to open a dispensary are the drug dealers, venture capitalists, and… rich people, I guess.

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