New Study Out of BC Recommends Keeping Unlicensed Dispensaries Open


A new study coming out of the University of British Columbia (UBC) says that unlicensed dispensaries in Canada should stay open.

As the Great White North legalizes marijuana, one of the challenges the federal government faces is the number of unlicensed dispensaries serving thousands of customers across the country. There has been significant debate as to what should be done about these retail storefronts, with some provinces working to shut them down, while others implement regulations for their tolerated existence.

Now, a research paper from UBC, one of the top three universities in Canada, finds that most Canadians prefer dispensaries over other ways of buying cannabis. The study was part of the largest survey of medical marijuana patients in Canada to date.

“[This research paper]  focuses particularly on dispensaries,” said Zach Walsh, an associate psychology professor at UBC, in an interview with “Everyone is debating how to deal with the commercialization of cannabis, that’s why we are publishing this now because there haven’t been any other studies that have actually asked dispensary customers what they like about dispensaries.”

The study was conducted by asking medical cannabis patients how they most liked to get their medicinal marijuana and why. “We looked at all the different modes of access, whether it’s buying from a friend, growing your own, having a designated grower. We asked people on a number of dimensions how these things rated and dispensaries did very well. They were the preferred method on most dimensions except cost, for people who were growing themselves.”

Walsh stopped short of recommending dispensaries outright as an option but did state that it is something that should be considered. “What we do recommend is that when [the government] is looking at the regulations, they should consider the benefits of dispensaries and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel because we have a system that works well for selling cannabis.”

Walsh believes the reason the government and others should take note of UBC’s findings is that dispensaries are clearly what Canadians want. He added that if the lawmakers would like a system that’s “sensitive to the preferences of consumers,” then dispensaries should be permitted in the retail mix.

Walsh added that government control in some way is inevitable, but a combination of storefront options is the way to go. “There’s going to be some government regulation, but I’m all about compromise and a mixed model, and an appropriate amount of government supervision.”

Thus far, Ontario has made an announcement that the retail system for adult-use marijuana sales will be government-controlled through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. New Brunswick has also indicated that a government model would be their preference — it’s likely that Quebec will do the same. Alberta has announced some provincial regulations but stopped short at revealing how marijuana retail will unfold.

Canada is scheduled to have adult-use cannabis legalization in place by July 2018.

About Author

Jon Hiltz was a journalist for for two years and is now director of content for INDIVA, a licensed cannabis producer in Ontario Canada.

1 Comment

  1. Yes, why try to spend our tax dollars to reinvent the wheel. There are already dispensaries that satisfy medical and recreational customers and have done for a very long time. But instead the gov’t in it’s infinite wisdom (*sarcasm*) has decided to build a mirror system rather than merely license the dispensaries already in existence, which would be much cheaper, and implementation would be seamless.

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