If you’re living in one of the states that have legalized marijuana, the chances are you’ve noticed a cannabis dispensary opening in a town or city near you.
The cannabis industry is currently supporting over 321,000 jobs, bringing relief to countless medical marijuana users, and contributing massively to the bank accounts of state tax collectors. But there are still many myths and untruths that surround cannabis and the dispensaries that sell it.
The cannabis dispensary: Friend or Foe?
We are currently living in a golden era of cannabis. Legalization has swept over large parts of America, both for recreational and medical use. Cannabis-based medication is now FDA approved, and hundreds of thousands of people are self-prescribing CBD as an alternative to common pharmaceuticals.
The cannabis industry has exploded over the past decade. Its growth is expected to continue in the coming years, as more people turn to cannabis for the first time and dispensaries continue to open across the nation.
But it’s not all smooth sailing for this burgeoning new industry. Those who are keeping an eye on marijuana’s journey from illicit parking lot deals to stock market flotations and billion-dollar mergers, will know that there are still significant contradictions between state and federal legislation.
While many states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, it is still prohibited on a federal level, causing huge issues for cannabis businesses. Many companies struggle to process their finances – banks fear federal prosecution if they handle money made from cannabis.
And the difficulties do not end there.
There have been further clashes between state legislators and those who make the laws at a local county level.
Cannabis has a long history of being a controlled substance in the US. Federal prohibition of the plant began in 1937 and stretches to the present day. During this time, many negative (and false) ideas grew around cannabis due to its status as an illegal substance. It has long been associated with criminal activity and lumped together with more dangerous and highly addictive substances like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.
Many attempts have been made to debunk the myths around cannabis on a cultural and political level, and to a large extent, they have been successful – resulting in the changes in legislation apparent today.
But there are still many who are holding on to incorrect ideas around cannabis and are opposed to legalization.
Although people who hold these views are a minority (two out of three Americans favor legalization), they have been vocal enough to pressure local governments to prohibit cannabis dispensaries from opening in many counties within states that have approved legalization.
Even within Colorado, a state that famously blazed a trail with this legalization in 2012, thirty-eight out of sixty-four counties have banned cannabis stores from opening.
But what are these myths? And how have they gained so much traction despite consensus swinging heavily towards a positive view of cannabis?
Myth – Cannabis dispensaries increase crime
Due to its long history as an illegal substance, cannabis has long been associated with criminal activity. The demand for cannabis has always existed — its status as a controlled substance didn’t stop those who wished to consume it. As a result, a large portion of cannabis production and supply has been in the hands of gangs.
Another link between crime and cannabis use can be chalked down to a (possibly willful) misinterpretation of data. Cannabis use is generally higher in low-income neighborhoods. Due to the higher rates of poverty, these areas also have increased crime rates and, as a result, higher police presence. These separate issues are often viewed as one, making an incorrect link between crime rates and marijuana use.
Despite progressive legislation, the association between cannabis and crime has stuck, and many residents fear that dispensaries opening in their neighborhood will increase crime.
But this flies in the face of one of the major arguments in favor of the legalization of cannabis – and the decriminalization of illicit substances in general.
The idea is with cannabis legalized and strictly regulated, the market is no longer in the hands of criminal gangs, stripping them of the power and profits that come from street dealing networks.
In fact, many studies have concluded that cannabis dispensaries actually reduce crime in their local area. Researchers found no increase in crime during a study carried out after the closure of cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles in 2010. They reported, “contrary to conventional wisdom, we find no evidence that closures decreased crime.” They found that crime increased by 24%!
There are several reasons why this could be the case. Cannabis dispensary owners are looking to reduce their overheads as much as possible and often choose the cheapest locations and renovate disused buildings. In addition to retail staff, many dispensaries also have security guards and increase footfall to these previously neglected areas. All of these extra pairs of eyes decrease the chance of opportunistic crime and bring money to surrounding businesses.
In addition to private security who will patrol business premises even at night, dispensaries also install CCTV and motion sensor lights, which help discourage crime in their vicinity.
As more cannabis dispensaries open in an area, the activity of the illicit marijuana trade decreases, driving away street dealers and decreasing related criminal activity.
This has a knock-on effect. Police departments (and the broader judicial and penal system) spend less money and workforce on low-level cannabis crimes, freeing up resources to tackle crime in other areas.
Myth – Dispensaries give teenagers access to cannabis
There are some parts of life that parents will always want to shield their children from, mind-altering substances rightly being one of them. It’s easy to relate to these concerns, and it’s clear that they come for a place of protection. But it’s even easier to dispel the myths that underpin these claims.
The reality is that teenagers were able to get their hands on cannabis before the laws relaxed. Studies into the teen use of cannabis have overwhelmingly concluded that teens in states with legal weed are not using more cannabis than before legislation changed.
There is no reason to believe that a dispensary in your local neighborhood will result in more underage cannabis users. The law strictly states that dispensaries cannot sell medical marijuana to under 18’s and recreational marijuana is only for those over 21. Cannabis regulation is tightly enforced, and any dispensary that breaches this fundamental pillar of legalization can find themselves slapped with hefty fines or have their license revoked.
In the same way that a bar opening is unlikely to increase teen alcohol use, dispensaries do not cater to minors. Most dispensaries will demand to see the ID of anyone who enters their store, and many will not allow children to enter the premises or hang around outside.
Many opponents to legalization claim that because cannabis is no longer illegal, children now see it as on-par with any other adult-only activity, and as such, the perceived dangers around it are diminished.
A counter to this argument is that more cannabis research is taking place, and information about it is more widespread – meaning young people are taking a more rational view of cannabis, based on scientific insight and facts. This is a massive shift from the fear-based approach used by many anti-cannabis advocates, which can increase the mystique and appeal around cannabis for curious, rebellious teens.
A final bonus for children who live in states that have legalized cannabis is that many jurisdictions have ring-fenced a percentage of tax raised from the industry for use in drug prevention initiatives.
Myth – dispensaries cause real estate prices to drop
People work their whole lives to provide shelter, luxury, and comfort to their families. House prices in many areas are astronomical, and with so much at stake, it’s little wonder that home-owners kick up a stink when any changes approach that could negatively affect the value of their property. Nobody wants to be left holding a mortgage that costs more than the value of their home.
These fears are based on the incorrect assumptions made in the first myth – that cannabis dispensaries will increase crime rates, reduce the desirability and ultimately the property value of the neighborhood.
Another unlikely claim is that cannabis dispensaries are likely to promote addiction and the use of hard drugs, thereby increasing the rates of poverty and again impacting house prices.
This is another myth that can be easily debunked by looking at research-based facts rather than buying into baseless hysteria. For example, peer-reviewed papers that studied block-by-block property prices in Denver, Colorado, saw property value near newly opened dispensaries rise by 8.4%.
Another study found that house prices in cities that have allowed dispensaries to operate shot up 6%, and 75% of real estate agents remarked that dispensaries have no impact on the overall value of homes.
There are many reasons why an increase in cannabis dispensaries has the potential to increase property rates. While some people may be concerned about the negative impact of cannabis stores opening in their area, many homeowners and buyers see it entirely the other way. Dispensaries may actually increase the appeal of an area in the same way as trendy coffee bars, restaurants, and bars.
The cannabis industry is also one of the fastest-growing job creators in the country (currently estimated at 320,000 and expected to grow by a massive 200% over the next decade). Any keen property investor will know high employment rates and property value go hand in hand.
Cannabis is increasingly seen as an area of innovation and entrepreneurship, the industry of hard work and hustle, a bright new sector that has the potential for many long years of growth. This is a far cry from the stigma of days gone by.
Myth – Dispensaries are dark, smoke-filled rooms filled with lazy, jobless stoners
Okay, we’ve bundled a few common misconceptions together here, misconceptions that go right to the core of the common stereotypes and assumptions about cannabis and the people who use it.
Everyone knows the cliche about ‘stoners.’ They just hang around in their pajamas all day eating Doritos, playing video games or watching Netflix. Falling behind on work or college commitments, they smoke so much that they eventually become complete societal drop-outs, lose their jobs, and move back into their mom’s basements.
Now, as anyone who has ever smoked weed will know, it’s entirely possible to lose an entire weekend to the sofa and achieve nothing other than a new personal best of continuously watched Sopranos episodes.
It’s also possible to smoke weed in your youth and go on to be President of the United States. It’s also possible to own a company that sends automated spacecraft to the ISS and smoke a blunt on the Joe Rogan show. Smoking weed is not a metric that can be used to judge if a person is – or will become – successful.
Neither is there a specific ‘type’ of person that uses cannabis. Yes, there’s the stereotype of a 20-something, long-haired ‘bro’ that is continuously recycled in pop culture, but cannabis users come from all walks of life, all levels of social status, all ethnicities, races, and genders. There is no one-size-fits-all model of what a typical cannabis user looks like. Spend some time at a medical dispensary, and you’ll see these stereotypes are redundant.
The other part of this myth is the preconceived idea of the settings and atmosphere of cannabis dispensaries. Firstly, it is not legal to consume cannabis inside a dispensary, nor on the street outside, and any business that allows this will be found out and on a one-way journey to having their license revoked.
Secondly, as we’ve just found out, no one ‘type’ of cannabis user exists. Cannabis has a broad appeal, and dispensaries position themselves to be inclusive of all members of society. Their shops are usually clean, well-lit, thoughtfully designed retail spaces aimed to attract as many customers as possible – not to alienate. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and passionate about the products they sell. Think more of an artisan coffee bar than an edge-of-town whiskey stop.
So there you have it! We have dispelled the most common myths surrounding cannabis dispensaries. For the record, while we’re myth-busting – it’s impossible to overdose from cannabis, weed is not addictive, and it is not a gateway drug.
The public attitude towards cannabis is changing through research, legislation, and education. Next time you hear your friend say ‘oh I’m sure the dispensary near me is going to increase crime, you can hit them with the facts!
As with any significant social change, there will always be friction, and there should always be keen scrutiny around a product like cannabis, but arming yourself with facts is always the best way forward.