How to Start a Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Medical marijuana dispensaries legally purchase marijuana from vendors and sell it to physician-approved patients. Dispensaries have a physician on the board of directors to ensure that patient treatment adheres to standard accepted practices. They also have highly trained staff who are continually educated about the many different strains and forms of cannabis and their medicinal purposes. Those forms include vapor, tinctures, balms, oils, juices, and edibles. A medical marijuana dispensary provides patients with an alternative to pain-killers and other drugs that can have harmful side effects when used long-term.

Learn how to start your own Medical Marijuana Dispensary and whether it is the right fit for you.

Start a medical marijuana dispensary by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your medical marijuana dispensary. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a medical marijuana dispensary?

Obtaining a business license is one of the most substantial startup costs of opening a medical marijuana dispensary. In most states where medical cannabis businesses are legal, the cost for an application for a license is $5,000. However, the cost varies from state to state, as does the minimum requirement for startup capital, which can be as high as $250,000. If you plan to grow your own product, additional grower’s license fees are required. Other common startup costs include:

  • Monthly rent, including a security deposit (for those who don’t own commercially zoned property)
  • Initial inventory (some growers are willing to accept a percentage of sales in lieu of a complete initial payment)
  • Display cases, bottles and jars
  • Office supplies
  • Security system
  • Signs that display your company name and logo to create brand recognition

What are the ongoing expenses for a medical marijuana dispensary?

Ongoing expenses to maintain a medical marijuana dispensary may include:

  • The cost of purchasing the product from growers
  • Rent and utilities
  • Staff salaries
  • Advertising and sales promotions

Who is the target market?

Clients and customers are all patients who have been referred by a physician who has prescribed cannabis as a medical treatment for an existing condition.

How does a medical marijuana dispensary make money?

A medical marijuana dispensary makes money by selling cannabis products for medicinal purposes. Some dispensaries grow their own product to increase profits while others purchase the product from professional licensed growers and resell it at a higher price. Many also make money through the retail sale of pipes and vaporizers purchased in bulk at wholesale prices.

How much can you charge customers?

Customers are charged according to the quality and quantity of the product. The average cost of an ounce of medical marijuana is $200. However, high-grade organic medical marijuana can cost as much as $60 per gram. That does not include any state tax. Edibles such as cookies or brownies can sell from between $2 and $5 per single dose. Tinctures are priced from $15 to $50, depending on the strength.

How much profit can a medical marijuana dispensary make?

According to Forbes, established businesses can earn up to 50% profits, while new ones commonly earn about 20%. Annual sales figures are not yet available since the medical marijuana dispensary industry is new and still illegal in some states. It is still considered high-risk due to the discrepancies between state and federal laws.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Many medical marijuana dispensaries offer a variety of foods containing medicinal marijuana. Brownies, cookies, and other edibles have become extremely popular, and customers are willing to pay more for the extra time, effort and ingredients needed to make them. Some dispensary owners also grow their own product, which results in fewer expenditures and higher profits. Many dispensaries also sell accessory products, such as pipes and vaporizers, which sell for prices ranging from $20 to $700.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. If you don’t have a name in mind already, read our detailed guide on how to name a business or get some help brainstorming a name with our Business Name Generator.

Then, when registering a business name we recommend checking if the business name is available in your state, federally by doing a trademark search, searching the web, and making sure the name you choose is available as a web domain to secure it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your medical marijuana dispensary is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

Check out the Top Business Formation Services from our friends at StartupSavant.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Each state has different licensing procedures for growing and selling medical marijuana. This site has a list of state-by-state regulations , and also offers legal consultation for persons interested in starting their own medical marijuana dispensary.

Most states also require businesses to obtain a generic seller’s permit or resale certificate. Additionally, some states require both. A seller’s permit allows states to record and collect taxes from goods (and sometimes service) sales.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.

In some states, such as California, it is required that medical marijuana dispensaries be opened up as non-profit organizations. Attached is a resource concerning state-specific non-profit requirements: Cornell University Law School - Non-profit organizations .

Release of Liability

To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, medical marijuana businesses should have their clients sign a release of liability. Here is an example of one such form.

Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional release of liability form for your dispensary when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.

Certificate of Occupancy

A medical marijuana dispensary is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a  Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a medical marijuana dispensary.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening,  it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your medical marijuana business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your Medical Marijuana Dispensary will cost.

Business Insurance for
Medical Marijuana Dispensary

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

How to promote & market a medical marijuana dispensary

There are more restrictions on advertising within the cannabis industry than other types of businesses. Creating a blog on your business website is a great way to educate existing and potential customers about your products, their uses and their effectiveness. Social media can also be very helpful in building a regular clientele as well as offering sales promotions. Experts suggest featuring your best products and offering deals, loyalty rewards, and referral incentives.

How to keep customers coming back

It’s important to introduce yourself and your highly trained staff members to the community. Your customers will be referred by prescribing physicians. Planning or attending community education events and giving presentations to patient support groups and at medical facilities are also good strategies.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Medical Marijuana Dispensary In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

This business is ideal for people who are passionate about alternative medicine and have a strong desire to help others. Those who have worked in the medical field are often drawn to this business, since the goal is to alleviate the severity of symptoms associated with many medical conditions that adversely affect quality of life. People interested in learning more about the practical application of the latest scientific discoveries in the fields of medical science, biology, and horticulture are ideal candidates for this business.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

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What happens during a typical day at a medical marijuana dispensary?

  • Keeping abreast of federal and state laws and new legislation affecting the industry
  • Learning about the medicinal properties of existing strains of cannabis as well as those of new strains currently under development
  • Negotiating prices with growers and ordering products
  • Educating and training staff members
  • Communicating with patients about their needs and the effectiveness of your products in meeting them

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful medical marijuana dispensary?

  • Knowledge of the medicinal properties of cannabis
  • Negotiation skills for contracting the best prices from growers
  • Interpersonal skills for communicating with patients about their needs and experiences with your products
  • Managerial skills for training and supervising staff
  • Accounting skills
  • Advertising and promotional skills for competing successfully within the industry

What is the growth potential for a medical marijuana dispensary?

A new report by a research firm revealed that legal cannabis sales rose 17% in 2015 to $5.4 billion and predicted that it would grow another 25% in 2016. Profits for individual dispensaries vary greatly. According to a recent industry survey, almost 60% of owners earn less than $500,000 annually. 27% of respondents reported sales between $100,000 and $250,000, and 15% reported earning less than $100,000. A little over 25% reported revenues of over $1 million, and 15% reported between $500,000 and $1 million.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

How and when to build a team

It’s important to have a team in place before opening your business. At a minimum, the team should include a physician, growers, a knowledgeable and well-trained sales staff, and adequate security personnel. Other team members may include investors, accountants, and additional personnel for tracking inventory, website maintenance and secretarial duties.

Next Steps

Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Generator.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

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