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3 Important Reasons to Buy Cannabis at Legal Dispensaries

Here's how cannabis consumers can protect themselves and the industry.

Key points

  • Buying cannabis from illegal growers and dealers undercuts legitimate licensed dispensaries and the entrepreneurs who own them.
  • Only cannabis products from licensed dispensaries have been tested for contaminants—pesticides, fungus, and volatile solvents.
  • Cannabis tax revenue pays for important programs and maintains public support for legal cannabis.

There are three very good reasons to purchase cannabis from legal dispensaries. The first reason is to support pioneering entrepreneurs like Edward. As a member of California’s Cannabis Advisory Committee, I witnessed the following spellbinding testimony at a public hearing (excerpted from Marijuana on My Mind: The Science and Mystique of Cannabis, release date 4-20-22):

Edward strode to the microphone on a mission. It was his opportunity to speak directly to California’s Cannabis Advisory Committee and the head of the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control. He had 90 seconds to speak. A man of average height with a strong, athletic build, Edward’s voice commanded attention without needing to be raised.

“I spent five years in prison for doing what I am legally doing today: selling cannabis to support my family. I have done everything you asked of me. I served my time. And now, I have met all the requirements for starting a licensed dispensary. But the police who arrested me years ago to protect the law-abiding public are failing to protect me when I am living as an honest citizen. Unlicensed and illegal cannabis dealers next door to my dispensary undersell me because they do not need to test their products for pesticides and fungus or collect the tax on cannabis that I must do. I have called the police and city council members. I have written to the Bureau of Cannabis Control and the state Attorney General’s office, but it takes months before illegal stores are shut down. Then the dealers are released and open their store under a different name across the street. I call the police and city council members again, but again it takes months for anything to happen.

“I believe I went to prison because I am Black. But I believe dispensary owners of all races are not being served by law enforcement. If California wants legal cannabis businesses to be successful, you have to protect us from the illegal market. I think you can say I have been fully rehabilitated as I stand here and plead with police to do their job, to serve and protect the public.”

The room remained silent as Edward walked back to his seat with dignity after laying bare the difficulties of converting the underground world of illegal cannabis into a legitimate industry.

The greatest danger to the legal cannabis industry is the continuation and thriving of the illegal underground market. These underground growers and dealers are not bound by any rules to protect the environment, its consumers, the general public, or the future of legal cannabis. Consumers can protect the legal market simply by boycotting illegal dealers, despite their lower prices, and supporting their local legal dispensaries.

Second, the only way you will find cannabis products that are free of contaminants is to buy them from legal dispensaries that can guarantee they have been tested in licensed, independent laboratories. The products in legal dispensaries have been grown by licensed farmers, so you can be sure that you are not using cannabis grown in national forests where creeks are dammed and polluted with illegal fertilizers and pesticides. Manufactured products such as edibles, vaping, and other concentrates will come from licensed manufacturers, so you can be sure all the dangerous, volatile hydrocarbons have been removed. It’s your body, your lungs, and only legal dispensaries will provide the safest products.

Third, the taxes levied on legal cannabis (and admittedly, no one likes taxes) are an important reason we have legal cannabis. This tax revenue is used differently by each state, but the list of benefits this money pays for is impressive and important for maintaining support for the cannabis industry: schools, drug education and prevention, health care, equity programs to support entry into the cannabis industry by individuals oppressed by the War on Drugs, environmental programs to rehabilitate damaged, illegal grow sites in our national forests, and basic childcare in California for low-income families.

The cannabis market is booming. California collected 55 percent more tax revenue from sales in 2021 over the previous year. And yet, California is lagging behind other states, primarily because the illegal market is at least twice the size of the legal market in that state.

The answer is not to gut regulations and cut taxes on cannabis, as many are attempting to do. This will only end childcare for 21,000 low-income families, end support for equity programs, and end support for integrating 50,000 released inmates, as well as cripple nascent drug education and prevention programs aimed at youth and decrease the safety of cannabis products. No, the answer is to enforce laws against illegal growers, dealers, and unlicensed dispensaries. Our country is very successful at suppressing illegal alcohol production and sales. There is no reason we cannot protect our legal cannabis industry to the same degree.

Consumers can play a pivotal role in protecting their hard-fought right to legal cannabis. Once the illegal industry finds it harder to sell their product, they, too, will be more likely to join the legal market. And the more legal dispensaries there are, the more competition there will be to keep their products at a reasonable price, despite the taxes needed to maintain enforcement against unfair, illegal competition and to provide the education and treatment, when necessary, to protect youth.