Dispensaries — some more straighforward than others — cash in on legal weed

by Angelica Wallingford, Staff Writer

When marijuana became legal in January there was an exponential growth in dispensaries in and around San Diego catering to medical and recreational use. 

Just typing in “marijuana dispensaries San Diego” in Google will lead you down a rabbit hole of Yelp reviews, a never-ending list of websites and a constantly updating map of dispensary locations.

“There’s always a couple of new spots opening up around the city,” John Anderson, a medical marijuana user said. “But I’ve found once you found one you like, you tend to stick with it.”

Some businesses have misleading names that cash in on the natural healing craze, incorporating such words such as “holistic” in their company names, while others rely on sometimes-humorous slang terms or play on words.

Many of them don’t have signs clearly stating what kind of business they are.

The huge green numbers indicate if you’re looking for your fix, chances are you’re in the right place. 

However, while dispensaries are seemingly everywhere, it’s important to note that while most of them are legal establishments, there are some that operate less than reputable shops that sell drugs aside from marijuana. 

“You can always tell which ones are following the laws and doing things legally,” a dispensary employee who asked to be identified only as ‘Mark’ said. “They look super seedy and you can just tell by walking in they have other motives.”

Names aside, legal dispensaries maintain cleanliness, organization and record keeping.

They record all their customers by making copies of ID’s and double checking customer’s medical marijuana prescriptions if they have them. 

Other than that, they have products similar to a grocery store.

They have drinks, food, various accessories, organic and non-organic options, oil, flour, etc. — except that all of these products are infused with cannabis oils.

“The selection they have is pretty amazing and surprising,” Rudolfo Castro said. “I had no idea that half of these things even existed let alone that there’s stuff for animals.”

Old and young gather at the dispensaries where they can fill their prescriptions and products for recreational use.  

The staff inside is usually nice and knowledgeable and will guide clients through the vast array of products available and provide recommendations based on the clients needs and wants.

“It’s just like any other business, honestly,” Mark said. “We have to know the product to sell it to the customers.”

Dispensaries are either located in dense shopping areas or industrial warehouse parts of the city. That’s not by accident. Laws and regulations dictate where they can operate, how much product they can have on premises, business hours and number of dispensaries allowed in a certain radius, according to the Shouse California Law Group. 

“Dispensaries have a lot of regulations and most establishments do a great job in following them,” Mark said. “For example, there’s multiple security (guards) at different locations of the building at all times and we always make sure to keep record of everyone that walks in.” 

Dispensaries have proven that they could be a money-making powerhouse for the local economy. KPBS reported that in just the first month of legalized marijuana sales brought in over $350,000 in revenue under the city’s cannabis tax plan.  

The city of San Diego estimates that the figure is slated to grow to $9.9 million by 2020, according to the city’s five–year financial plan.