The Dangers of Purchasing Cannabis Products from Unlicensed Dispensaries
If you were looking to buy cannabis, getting it from someone on a street corner wouldn't be the best way to go about it, since you really have no idea what you're getting.

Equally risky: purchasing cannabis products from an unlicensed dispensary. Without getting the green light from regulators, these dispensaries could be handing out products that may not only be ineffective, but could even be a danger to you and anyone else who consumes them.

That's why it's so important to obtain your cannabis products from a licensed dispensary only and avoid any entities that are not properly licensed in their state. But how exactly can you spot a dispensary that isn't licensed?

What is a Licensed Dispensary? 

Any dispensary that sells cannabis and cannabis products must be licensed in its respective state in order to be lawful. Licenses are issued by the Bureau of Cannabis Control (or your state’s licensing agency) for any entity involved in the cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, sale, lab testing, and even cannabis-related event organizing.

Applicants also have to provide proof of approval from their respective local jurisdiction that they plan to open operations in before obtaining a license. Without approval, the dispensary is not legally allowed to operate.

A licensed dispensary should have their license clearly on display for all patrons to see. Even before customers make their way into a dispensary, they will be greeted by security who will ask for ID and a medical card (if the dispensary is for medical cannabis). In fact, the dispensary will likely be full of security throughout a patron’s experience.

Once guests enter a shop, all items will be sealed, properly stored, and clearly labeled to compliance. However, they do not permit the consumption of products on-site, which includes the parking lot. These rules do not bend, unless the establishment has a license specific for consumption.

Any dispensary that has not applied for a license or has been denied approval for whatever reason from the license issuing office in their state can be considered an unlicensed dispensary. 

They could be in violation for a number of reasons. Maybe they're not licensed at all. Maybe they're not following other regulations in the industry or have unapplied taxes. Many different issues could be present.

Regardless, it's these dispensaries that you should steer clear of, and only licensed dispensaries are safe to buy cannabis products from.

What Are the Dangers of Purchasing From an Unlicensed Dispensary?

Illegal dispensaries threaten the legitimacy of the cannabis market and eat into the profits of legal businesses that have followed the proper steps (and paid the fees) to get licensed. In fact, recent data suggests that the illegal cannabis market totals as much as $70 billion across the country.

Not only are unlicensed dispensaries a danger to the legal market, but they're also a potential threat to your health and safety. 

Why? Simply put, you just don't know what you're getting from these places. Not only could the products you're buying be knock-offs of the real thing, but they could also be laced with hazardous chemicals and pesticides. 

Some unlicensed dispensaries knowingly put out products that aren't what they say they are. Others are putting out products that haven't even been tested. And if the seller doesn’t know what's in their products, neither will you.

A licensed, reputable cannabis dispensary will sell marijuana and other cannabis products that have been tested by third-party labs and include accurate labels to help consumers make informed buying decisions. But products that haven’t been thoroughly tested can contain substances that can negatively affect your health. 

Labs test cannabis for a number of things, but many times cheap cultivators, distributors, and retailers will cut corners to get their products on the market sooner. By taking shortcuts, little time, if any, is dedicated to ensuring quality control.

Not only that, but a lack of proper testing results in a lack of knowledge which the consumer needs in order to make a clear decision on his or her purchase to best suit their health needs. 

More specifically, labs test for the following before a cannabis product is legally ready for sale:

Potency - How much THC or CBD is in the cannabis product you're buying? Adequate lab testing will identify the exact potency of the cannabis and will tell you how much THC or CBD you're getting. 

Contaminants - When cannabis plants are grown and processed, a number of contaminants can make their way into the product before it makes it to the shelves at cannabis retailers. Lab testing will look for the presence of any contaminants, including chemicals, pesticides, hormones, solvents, mold, heavy metals, dirt, and other miscellaneous debris.

Terpene and cannabinoid profiles - Knowing exactly what types of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are in the medical cannabis product can give you a better understanding of exactly what’s in the product you're consuming and the effect you can expect.

Without such testing and readily-available lab results, you'll have little idea of what you're paying for, what you're putting in your body — or how you’ll feel when you consume it.

If you see flowers displayed in large canisters, proceed with caution.

How Can You Tell if a Dispensary is Unlicensed? 

Earlier we discussed what a licensed dispensary looks like and what it's supposed to have before selling to the public. But what does an unlicensed dispensary look like? How can you spot one to avoid spending your money there?

You can start by taking a look around the lobby, with an eye out for what’s not displayed. A licensed marijuana dispensary will have its license clearly out in the open. In fact, they are required to display their license numbers in their dispensary lobby. If you don't see credentials in a shop, you may be dealing with an unlicensed entity. And don't be fooled by a fake license or a tax ID, which some illicit dispensaries may display in lieu of a license. 

You can also check your state’s licensing agency website to see if a shop has a license number.  If you’re purchasing online, look at the directory listing. While some directory sites don’t pay attention to license numbers, many reputable dispensaries are proactively adding it to their listings. 

For example, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control website allows you to search for licensed dispensaries.

When it comes to spotting an unlicensed dispensary, some common sense should be enough. For instance, a licensed dispensary should have no problem placing their license on display, and adding it to their receipts so you can cross-reference when you get home.

Further, a responsible cannabis shop should also check customer IDs to make sure they’re old enough to purchase marijuana, just like liquor stores. Once inside, pay attention to how products are displayed. If you see flowers displayed in large canisters, proceed with caution. Regulations prohibit storing cannabis flowers in bulk as a way to keep the product free from germs. 

Detecting Low-Quality Products

What about their products? How can you tell if a shady dispensary is selling low-quality items? For starters, the products should be properly packaged and sealed in accordance with local regulations. This means child-proof, sealed containers 

If you’re ordering from a delivery service, inspect the product while the driver is at your door. If the driver won’t allow this, consider it a major red flag. Reputable delivery services will stand behind their products and want to keep you safe. 

You can also tell that a cannabis bud is low-quality just by looking at it. You should be skeptical of buds that are more brown than green. Quality buds will be dense, somewhat heavy and be a more vibrant shade of green with purple hues.

You can also identify low-quality buds by their smell. Ideally, cannabis buds should have a potent, sweet, and flowery smell. Anything less will point to a bud that's not as high-quality. 

When consuming cannabis, pay attention to how easily the flower lights. Illicit cannabis may not light at all. Or, in one particularly scary experience of ours, it turned a person’s mouth numb when she finally got the product to combust. 

Read More: 11 High End California Cannabis Dispensaries 

Staying Safe With High-Quality Cannabis

Much like you would want to make sure that you're buying your food products that have been approved by the FDA or medications that are pharmacopoeia grade, you should also be concerned about purchasing cannabis products that exhibit the same safety standards.. Failure to buy your cannabis from a licensed facility could leave you with a poor-quality product that could be hazardous to your health. 

Unlike other cannabis directories where businesses can create listings by themselves, all companies listed on Foli are posted by our team after a thorough review process. This means you can be sure all companies listed on our site are fully licensed to sell high-quality cannabis products.