Medical marijuana dispensaries have been popping up in different places across the United States and in other countries as well. They are designed to supply individuals with medical needs for marijuana, so they are deeply connected with the medical marijuana debate. While connected to this larger debate, dispensaries have their own set of pros and cons to consider. Some of these include whether medical marijuana dispensaries will have negative effects on the communities where they are located. Will crime increase in these areas? Can dispensaries be properly regulated to ensure against fraud, faked prescriptions, or just shady prescriptions for individuals with insignificant or debatably-significant illnesses? Are whole dispensaries required, or should marijuana only be carried in traditional pharmacies? Are they economically beneficial, or can they harm businesses in surrounding communities? These and other questions are addressed below.
Darcy Hughes, who used to manage the dispensary B Green in Los Angeles, said in 2010 after her and other’s dispensaries were closed: “It’s like treating us like drug dealers. It’s not right.”
“Like hip-hop, health food and snowboarding, marijuana is going corporate. As more and more states allow medical use of the drug, and California considers outright legalization, marijuana’s supporters are pushing hard to burnish the image of pot by franchising dispensaries and building brands; establishing consulting, lobbying and law firms; setting up trade shows and a seminar circuit; and constructing a range of other marijuana-related businesses.”
The answer to the many possible challenges faced by Marijuana dispensaries – including fraudulent prescriptions and crime outside of dispensaries – is regulation. The answer is not to ban dispensaries out right.
Cedaredge Town Council Trustee Nancy Sturgill said in 2009: “This [marijuana] is a very natural product, said Sturgill, and I don’t feel conﬁdent in denying Cedaredge residents access at this point.”
Art Santa Cruz, a 66-year-old Lansing man, said he would like to open a dispensary. He said he has severe back pain from a military stint in Vietnam or perhaps a car crash: “If it weren’t for medical marijuana, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. There has to be dispensaries. This is an important issue. The marijuana industry should be allowed to flourish. When pain goes away, I thank God.”
“A very basic question that I have is this. THC, the ingredient in marijuana that people are smoking it for, is available in pill form already. Why then do we need to have smoked marijuana available with all the problems that it brings? Marinol is a prescription medicine that can be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed from a controlled pharmacy.”
“On January 31, 2010 Christian Thurston published an article in the Denver Post entitled Smoke and Mirrors. Christian is the Medical Director of a substance abuse treatment program in Denver. Christian provided an example of a 19 year old being treated for “Severe Addiction”. This 19 year old walked in to dispensary, gave them $300 and discussed his depression with a “doctor”. He was then given a medical marijuana card. One pregnant woman was given a marijuana card to smoke because of her nausea. Yes, she was told to smoke marijuana during the pregnancy. We have people showing up to work stoned and claiming no foul because the marijuana was “prescribed” for them. We have 18 year olds obtaining a license to smoke joints daily for an ear ache, depression, etc.”
If marijuana dispensaries are indeed about providing marijuana for medical purposes, than entire dispensaries are probably excessive. Instead, why not carry medical marijuana in pharmacies? This would probably reduce the excessive supply and abuses, and would certainly eliminate concerns of shady crowds centering around dispensaries and creating concerns for local communities.
Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion joined the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said on June 17th of 2010: “Medical marijuana is a public health issue, it’s not a law enforcement problem. The data from California suggests that the risk of crime outside a dispensary is no greater than what we’d experience at a bank. So I think we should just move forward and exercise the common sense that the voters have demonstrated in repeated votes on this measure.”
Crime surrounds all kinds of legal shops, including strip clubs, banks, supermarkets, and bars. This fact does not mean that these shops should be closed. Nor should it be the case for marijuana dispensaries.
The legitimate place of dispensaries in supplying individuals that suffer from illnesses with access to medicine must be separated from the crime that may or may not surround them. This crime is unrelated to the fundamental mission of medical marijuana dispensaries, so it should not be used against them, just as crime surrounding other legitimate businesses cannot be used to argue against the legitimate purpose of these businesses.
Steph Sherer, medical marijuana patient and executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s largest medical cannabis advocacy organization: “There has been a lot of collateral damage in the federal campaign against medical marijuana patients. We need to stop the prosecutions, bring the prisoners home, and begin working to eliminate the conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws.”
Marijuana dispensaries are popping up in places whether it is legal or not. It is better to legalize and regulate these dispensaries then to let them exist under the radar.
Aaron Randle is tending to his new shop, Sunnyside Alternative Medicine: “There’s a lot of jobs created because of medical marijuana. You have employees that work at the dispensaries, then you have vendors that are getting paid. … Real estate is booming right now. Warehouses are getting rented out for grow operations.”
Medical marijuana dispensaries can create an unfortunate local environment for other businesses. Some customers might not want to go to the grocery store right next door to the marijuana dispensary. This is a serious economic consideration.
Joycelyn Elders, M.D., Former U.S. Surgeon General. Op-ed: Providence Journal. March 26, 2004: “The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.”
Consumer Reports Magazine. “Marijuana as Medicine – How Strong Is the Science?” May 1997: “Consumer Reports believes that, for patients with advanced AIDS and terminal cancer, the apparent benefits some derive from smoking marijuana outweigh any substantiated or even suspected risks.”
Joycelyn Elders, MD Former US Surgeon General. Editorial: Providence Journal. March 26, 2004]: “The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.” 
Dennis Kucinich, US Representative (D-OH) and 2008 Democratic Candidate for US President, stated on Aug. 9, 2007: “It’s a matter between doctors and patients, and if doctors want to prescribe medical marijuana to relieve pain, compassion requires that the government support that. And so as president of the United States, I would make sure that our Justice Department was mindful that we should be taking a compassionate approach.”
Richard H. Schwartz, MD, physician in Advanced Pediatrics. Letter to the Editor, New England Journal of Medicine. July 14, 1994: “…support of the use of marijuana for medical purposes is scientifically unfounded. There is no evidence that marijuana is superior to ondansetron (Zofran), dexamethasone, or synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (Marinol) as an antiemetic in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Nor is there scientific evidence to support the use of marijuana for AIDS-associated anorexia, depression, epilepsy, narrow-angle glaucoma, or spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.”
Bill Frist, MD Former US Senator (R-TN). ProCon.org. Oct. 20, 2003: “Although I understand many believe marijuana is the most effective drug in combating their medical ailments, I would caution against this assumption due to the lack of consistent, repeatable scientific data available to prove marijuana’s medical benefits.
“Marijuana isn’t really very good for you. True, there are health benefits for some patients. [but…] Frequent marijuana use can seriously affect your short-term memory. It can impair your cognitive ability (why do you think people call it dope?) and lead to long-lasting depression or anxiety. While many people smoke marijuana to relax, it can have the opposite effect on frequent users. And smoking anything, whether it’s tobacco or marijuana, can seriously damage your lung tissue…Despite all the talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, smoking the stuff is not going to do your health any good.”
People who are addicted to a drug are especially driven to find loopholes. In countries where marijuana has already been introduced for medical purposes, this has been the case. Legalizing marijuana would pose a bad example and trigger pressures for the legalization of other drugs.
Dennis Kucinich, US Representative (D-OH) and 2008 Democratic Candidate for US President, stated the following in an Aug. 9, 2007 Democratic presidential forum aired on Viacom’s Logo cable network: “It’s a matter between doctors and patients, and if doctors want to prescribe medical marijuana to relieve pain, compassion requires that the government support that.”
Steel industry workers do not make policies regulating steel. In the same way, individual doctors should not make policies on medicine such as marijuana.
Philip Denney, MD, co-founder of a medical cannabis evaluation practice, stated the following in his Nov. 17, 2005, testimony to the Arkansas legislature in support of House Bill 1303: “An Act to Permit the Medical Use of Marijuana”: “I have found in my study of these patients that cannabis is really a safe, effective and non-toxic alternative to many standard medications.”
“Libertarian Party Condemns the Supreme Court Decision Against the Use of Medical Marijuana.” The Libertarian Party. June 6, 2005: “The Libertarian Party is a long-standing advocate for individual liberty and believes that Americans should be responsible for their own actions and, in this case, be able to use alternative forms of medication outside of the realm of insurance companies and the pharmaceutical lobby.”
The fact that there are alternatives to medical marijuana for many treatments is not necessarily an argument against medical marijuana. It is always important to have many alternatives, largely due to differing personal preferences, beliefs, and physical reactions to different drugs.
Bill Frist, MD Former US Senator (R-TN). ProCon.org. Oct. 20, 2003: Based on current evidence, I believe that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that there are less dangerous medicines offering the same relief from pain and other medical symptoms.”
Bill Frist, M.D. U.S. Senator (R-TN), Correspondence to ProCon.org. October 20, 2003] – “Although I understand many believe marijuana is the most effective drug in combating their medical ailments, I would caution against this assumption due to the lack of consistent, repeatable scientific data available to prove marijuana’s medical benefits. Based on current evidence, I believe that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that there are less dangerous medicines offering the same relief from pain and other medical symptoms.”
California Narcotics Officers Association. Official policy statement. “The Use of Marijuana as a Medicine”. October 31, 2005 – “Marinol differs from the crude plant marijuana because it consists of one pure, well-studied, FDA-approved pharmaceutical in stable known dosages. Marijuana is an unstable mixture of over 400 chemicals including many toxic psychoactive chemicals which are largely unstudied and appear in uncontrolled strengths.”
Jacob Sullum, Senior Editor of Reason magazine. “Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use.” 2003 book: “It’s beyond serious dispute that marijuana, which has been used therapeutically for thousands of years, helps relieve nausea and restore appetite. Marinol, a capsule containing THC, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for AIDS wasting syndrome and the side effects of cancer chemotherapy. But smoked marijuana has several advantages over Marinol…”
Gabriel Nahas, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Anesthesiology and Medicine at Columbia University. “Marihuana Is the Wrong Medicine.” Wall Street Journal. Mar. 11, 1997: “The debate over using marihuana as medicine has been distorted by a basic confusion: the implicit assumption that smoking marihuana is a better therapy than the ingestion of its active therapeutic agent THC or a more effective one than approved medications. This assumption is wrong. THC (also known as Marinol) is an approved remedy that may be prescribed by physicians for nausea and AIDS wasting syndrome. It is safer than marihuana smoke.”
Donald Abrams, M.D., et al. “Short-Term Effects of Cannabinoids in Patients with HIV-1 Infection”. Annals of Internal Medicine. August 19, 2003 – “Patients receiving cannabinoids [smoked marijuana and marijuana pills] had improved immune function compared with those receiving placebo. They also gained about 4 pounds more on average than those patients receiving placebo.”
U.S. Institute of Medicine Report. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. March, 1999 – “The most compelling concerns regarding marijuana smoking in HIV/AIDS patients are the possible effects of marijuana on immunity. Reports of opportunistic fungal and bacterial pneumonia in AIDS patients who used marijuana suggest that marijuana smoking either suppresses the immune system or exposes patients to an added burden of pathogens. In summary, patients with preexisting immune deficits due to AIDS should be expected to be vulnerable to serious harm caused by smoking marijuana.”