How to Open a Dispensary? (Cannabis & Marijuana Full Guide)

Delina Chantel Yasmeh
Published by Delina Chantel Yasmeh | Author
Last updated: June 21, 2024
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Before launching a dispensary business, you should have an idea of what the medical marijuana industry landscape is like: the customer demand, the startup costs, the revenue potential, and the state regulations surrounding the sector.

We recognize the complexities and nuances involved in this venture. That's why we've collaborated with a highly skilled and licensed team of business professionals, each with over a decade of experience in entrepreneurship.

Together, we've created a comprehensive guide to assist you through the process of launching a successful dispensary.

Quick Summary

  • Opening a dispensary involves understanding marijuana laws, establishing a business structure, creating a detailed business plan, and securing funding.
  • Conducting thorough market research is essential to comprehending regulations, customer demand, and the competitive landscape.
  • Over 60% of Americans support marijuana legalization, highlighting the growing acceptance and potential customer base for dispensaries.
  • Opening a dispensary can be a lucrative venture, but it requires careful planning, compliance with laws, and strategic marketing to succeed.

1. Understand Marijuana Business Laws

Pharmacist reading a brochure on how to start a cannabis dispensary

Different states have laws governing the legal cannabis market in terms of cultivation, transportation, and selling of marijuana in dispensaries.

Additionally, marijuana use may still be illegal in some places.

It would be best to conduct market research and understand your region's relevant rules and ordinances before starting a cannabis dispensary shop to sell marijuana.

As a dispensary owner, you need to know the rules for producing and selling cannabis. Also, stay informed about any upcoming regulations.

2. Establish the Business Structure

Even though your marijuana business will probably be smaller and more localized, you still need to select your best business structure.

Your choice of company entity will impact the taxes you pay and the degree of risk you face.

You can start your recreational marijuana dispensary as a sole proprietorship, a corporation, a limited liability company, or a partnership.

You'll enjoy limited liability protection and tax exemption status if you form an LLC or a corporation.

For such structures, we recommend hiring a legal expert to handle liability, tax, and regulatory issues impacting your business.

Incorporating your dispensary might be more favorable for taxes and liability, but it is more difficult and expensive than an LLC.

Additionally, operating your dispensary as a corporation could assist you in luring outside private investment.

3. Find a Suitable Name

Writing on a document using a pen

Once you have established the type of entity you want, you must also decide on a name for your dispensary.

Your state's unique procedures for selecting a business name will apply.

Still, you'll need to check whether the name you want is already taken before paying a nominal price to reserve it for a predetermined period.

After verifying your business name, you must submit particular documents to the Secretary of State's office, depending on the sort of entity you wish to establish.

"Given the variability in procedures and required forms from state to state, engaging a professional formation company is advisable to navigate the complexities efficiently," advises an industry expert."

-Jon Morgan, Co-Editor & Co-Founder of Venture Smarter

You can also outsource trademark and copyright registration to safeguard any intellectual property that your company owns.

These can contain original works, product names or themes, logos, slogans, and your company name.

4. Develop the Business Plan

You can establish and run your firm with the help of a solid business plan.

Ensure your dispensary business plan evaluates your whole addressable market to assist you in better comprehending the possibilities.

Here are the important sections to include in your dispensary business plan:

Executive Summary

Establish your company's objectives and the dispensary's mission statement to get started.

Ensure you define whether your dispensary wants to concentrate on offering high-quality marijuana for medical purposes or whether it will appeal mainly to recreational users.

Products and Services

You'll also need to be more explicit about the cannabis products and goods you'll sell and the target market for them.

Again, the cannabis industry is rife with competition, so you must demonstrate to potential investors and state authorities how your company will stand out from the crowd.

Market Research

This section examines the intended audience for your product or service.

It includes an analysis of your target market's geographic location, cannabis sales, demands, and cannabis market segmentation.

Anyone reading this part will see that you have a solid grasp of the clients or customers you want to work with.

Management Section

Your organizational and legal framework are described in the management section of the business plan.

It also outlines your leadership team and your projected personnel requirements. You could also briefly describe your advisory board here if you intend to apply for financing.

Financial Plan

Under the financial plan section, you must cover all things monetary.

Drawing from my experience, I've stressed to clients that an income statement, a balance sheet, and a cash flow statement are crucial for understanding a company's financial health.

These documents are fundamental for tracking performance, making informed decisions, and securing funding.

Your business plan also has to have a clear and simple budget.

You should take into account every aspect of the startup and ongoing expenses, such as:

  • License fee
  • Rental fees
  • Equipment costs
  • Transportation and product storage
  • Employee salary
  • Security

5. Get Funds

Using a calculator to tally funds

Any effective business plan for opening a marijuana shop will have an appropriate funding strategy.

However, it is more challenging for operators of medical marijuana shops to qualify for loans, merchant accounts, or other finance to meet operational costs since marijuana is still illegal on a federal level.

Banks are also protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation against default.

You should first concentrate on getting funds from angel investors, friends, and family, crowdfunding, debt funding, credit cards, and personal loans.

"A dispensary is regarded as a high-risk business endeavor, and even if you succeeded in finding a financial institution willing to support you, doing business with them may become unprofitable very soon due to the higher expenses and fees"

- Dr. Jared Helfant, President at Sparx Cannabis

6. Obtain Business Licenses

The business licenses, permits, and registration procedures required to start a business vary by location due to different state regulations, particularly for a cannabis business.

Starting a dispensary involves strict compliance. Conduct thorough research and consult a legal expert in your state for guidance on registering your business and obtaining the necessary licenses.

Know precisely what paperwork, licenses, and regulatory organizations you must abide by to launch and run your marijuana business before establishing one.

Remember that owning a medical cannabis shop or dispensary alone has different guidelines than operating a marijuana delivery or growing enterprise.

7. Set Up Taxes

Signing legal documents

You must register for different state and federal taxes that will vary depending on the state in which you launch your dispensary business.

However, regardless of where you launch your cannabis company, you must apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or a business tax ID number directly through the IRS's website.

The EIN is useful for completing payroll duties and paying income taxes for your dispensary during the tax season.

We also recommend perusing Tax Code 280E to learn more about how to deduct taxes from sales and earnings [1].

There is no sales tax on medicinal marijuana in the states.

But the net effective tax rate on marijuana used for recreational purposes ranges from 35 to 45% and includes:

  • 15% retail tax
  • Recreational cannabis flowers are subject to a $2.75 cultivation tax per ounce of dry weight and a $9.25 cultivation tax [2].

8. Open a Business Bank Account

Even though opening a business LLC bank account with traditional banks isn't an option for cannabis dispensaries, you can establish a line of credit with other facilities that offer equity and debt funding.

Opening an account will separate your retail cannabis business funds from other personal assets.

9. Finalize Other Business Requirements

Here are the other aspects that you must finalize before launching your dispensary business:

1. Location

A pharmacist holding an orange clipboard

Most jurisdictions require securing a potential dispensary location before starting the license application process.

Regulations affecting the actual placement of a cannabis retail shop vary from state to state.

A word of advice from our professional experience: you should check with your local government to find out whether there are any additional requirements or restrictions, as this can save you a lot of time and headaches.

Additionally, confirm that the dispensary location is authorized by contacting the county, city, or town where you desire to conduct business.

Choosing between owning and renting a building is another decision you must make. If you have enough capital, you can purchase an entire property and decide how to construct and use the land.

However, property owners could be more picky under leases and even outright reject dispensaries. To avoid future legal issues, it is imperative that you reveal your planned use of the property upfront if you decide to rent.

2. Staff

To successfully run a dispensary business, you should build qualified dispensary employees, including managers, administrative assistants, board of directors, budtenders, compliance officers, and security personnel.

Ensure your budtenders are qualified and possess extensive cannabis expertise in cannabis strains, products, and medicinal applications if they want to provide consumers with a satisfying experience at a dispensary.

When it comes to managers, I often advise clients that they should look for someone with knowledge of the cannabis business and inventory management.

They must be enthusiastic about the field and capable of leading your team without your presence.

3. Inventory

Organizing the dispensary inventory

Obtaining the physical store inventory, like the marijuana you'll sell, is another necessary step in this business.

Given that the procedure for obtaining marijuana varies depending on the nation, be sure your choice of cannabis provider is reliable and state-certified.

The other alternative is to get a growers license and cultivate your own cannabis to ensure its quality.

Your new dispensary will also require equipment to assist you in storing and displaying goods, tracking sales, running the back office, and protecting the space.

This equipment includes:

  • Shelving and display equipment.
  • Computers and portable or point-of-sale consoles.
  • Merchandise packaging.
  • Price tags and product labels.
  • Supplies for sanitation and cleaning.
  • Security and monitoring devices like CCTVs.

4. Marketing

Planning business plan and marketing

Once your dispensary business runs, you must develop a branding and marketing strategy to ensure sustainable profitability.

Cannabis businesses face intense competition, and effective marketing strategies can significantly impact your company's success.

Consider promoting sales, exclusive offers for new customers, and other incentives to attract clients through signs and advertising efforts.

Another marketing strategy is organizing events, public awareness campaigns, competitions, or giveaways with other service companies with similar products in your neighborhood.

Suppose you own a business website for your dispensary. In that case, you can establish a massive online presence by continuously publishing unique material and posts about cannabis to your social media channels and the website.

You can also offer discount codes or other incentives on your website to get visitors to subscribe to your email list.

After that, you may send frequent emails to your consumers to keep them updated on all your best-selling and new products.

Related articles:


How Much Does It Cost To Open a Dispensary?

It costs roughly $150,000 to $2 million to open a dispensary. The startup amount may be more depending on the product type and size of the company.

What Do Most Dispensaries Sell?

Most dispensaries sell different cannabis products, including traditional marijuana flowers, concentrates, edibles, beverages, and vape pens.

How Many Plants Can You Grow With a Growers License?

You can grow 500 to 2000 plants with a grower's license. However, you can grow more if you register for many licenses.



About The Author

Delina Chantel Yasmeh, J.D./Tax LL.M, specializes in Mergers and Acquisitions at Deloitte and PwC, managing billion-dollar transactions. Educated in Accountancy at California State University and holding advanced degrees from Loyola Law School, she is highly skilled in tax law. Delina also dedicates time to pro bono work for women and children.
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Growth & Transition Advisor
LJ Viveros has 40 years of experience in founding and scaling businesses, including a significant sale to Logitech. He has led Market Solutions LLC since 1999, focusing on strategic transitions for global brands. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Communications, LJ is also a distinguished Matsushita Executive alumnus.
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