Marijuana facilities

A Look Inside Marijuana Dispensaries and How They Work

Like it or not, marijuana is headed your way. Cannabis, following a long and troubled past with prohibition, is finally starting to be legalized in small pockets around the country through a variety of voter and government actions. While the federal government is still holding fast to all-out illegalization, states around the country are chipping away at marijuana laws to the benefit of local economies and even law enforcement professionals.

Thus far, Colorado and Washington are the only two states to have passed voter initiatives fully legalizing marijuana for recreational use. While there are still some caveats to the law, the benefits have been immense. Colorado has been raking in huge tax revenues since sales first started around the beginning of the year, and Washington, although lagging behind in the implementation of retail sales, is set to keep up. Both of these states had robust medical marijuana industries prior to full legalization, making the transition a bit easier for citizens. While the industries and laws vary from state to state, the basic premise of medical marijuana dispensaries, along with collective gardens and the donation system, work generally the same.

It’s through these systems of collective gardens and donations that medical marijuana dispensaries have been able to open up legally and thrive, serving the sick and needy of their respective constituencies. Naturally, there are those who abuse the system, using the medical loophole to simply get their hands on cannabis products for recreational use. But the medical marijuana industry plays an immensely important role in the lives of many. For many, cannabis products and their derivatives are the only thing that supplies relief to people suffering from cancer, chronic pain, anxiety, and countless other issues.

As a resident of Washington state, I’ve had the chance to check out dozens of local medical marijuana access points and speak with the individuals who own and operate them. Most run through a legal loophole which allows ‘collective gardens’, in which multiple medical marijuana patients, who are allowed to grow or possess a certain number of plants or weight in dried product, to come together by pooling their resources. Turning these collective gardens into a non-profit business is tricky, but by walking a fine legal line, it can be done.

Here is an inside look at how many of the medical marijuana access points in Washington, specifically the Seattle metro area, operate.

The collective garden concept is integral to the entire medical marijuana industry, especially in Washington state. Every time you enter a dispensary or access point, you will be asked to brandish your identification and medical marijuana paperwork, or ‘green card’. New patients are then asked to fill out paperwork, essentially becoming a member of that particular collective garden, which allows for them to take cannabis product from the storefront in exchange for monetary donations. Patients can become members of as many collective gardens they want, providing unlimited access to the hundreds of dispensaries across he state.

A bit of a squirrely system, but that’s more or less the way it works.

This is also important when it comes to understanding exactly how access points get the product they offer patients and customers. As collective gardens, shops are able to grow their own cannabis, along with the allotment of plants for each of their members. This can reach incredibly high numbers, which is how some grow operations can become so huge and yet still operate (somewhat) legally. In many cases, this provides more than enough product to stock dispensary shelves.

Other people have decided to grow for themselves, and specialize in certain product offerings. This is where the true innovation in the cannabis marketplace comes from; multiple patients working on different products, and seeing what works. This also holds true with different strains of marijuana.

There are two basic types of cannabis: sativa, which offers a more upbeat, cerebral sensation, and indica, which is used more as a pain killer, and gives users more of a sedative effect. By finding the perfect match of cannabinoids, or chemical compounds found within the cannabis flower, patients can often find highly-effective medications for their ailments. For example, patients who are suffering from insomnia would be better-off using a heavy indica, which would help them relax and fall asleep. Many people who go to work and deal with chronic pain might want to opt for hybrid of an indica and sativa, which would help fight pain, but also not cause drowsiness.

By experimenting with the nearly limitless amount of combinations, new strains are found and classics are made to be as potent as ever. In fact, specific strains are being cultivated with certain chemical makeups to fight very specific conditions, as in the case of the Charlotte’s Web strain.

Patients growing their own cannabis can bring it to access points, or even marijuana farmers markets, and attempt to sell it through the donation system. This is also where most shops get their edibles and oils. As the market sees specialization, some patients can form their own small businesses by focusing their talents on certain products. One patient may have an excellent way to make cannabis-infused soda, for example, and find a way to produce and market it under a specific name. They can then bring these sodas to different shops, and stock the shelves with their product


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