COLUMBUS, Ohio – A study of four medical marijuana outlets in California suggests that many of their customers don’t fit the profile expected for businesses focused on sick patients.
Researchers found that some of the dispensaries attracted many customers outside of their immediate area and appeared to target specific ethnic, gender and/or age groups.
None of that would be expected if these outlets serviced only people with medical needs, according to the researchers.
“There are only so many potential medical marijuana users out there. At some point some of these businesses get creative and try to find ways to build their business,” said Bridget Freisthler, co-author of the study and professor of social work at The Ohio State University.
If they were truly selling only for medical purposes, these marijuana dispensaries should be acting much like pharmacies, Freisthler said.
“Pharmacies attract people who live in the neighborhood or maybe work nearby. If you need a prescription, you’re not going to go across town to fill it – you’re going to go to the pharmacy closest to where you live. That’s what we should be seeing with medical marijuana dispensaries.”
Instead, these dispensaries are acting more like bars, which develop niche markets like sports bars or biker bars, she said.
“From a public health standpoint, it is concerning. While there has been speculation that medical dispensaries target recreational users, now we are starting to collect evidence that suggests this is true,” she said.
Freisthler conducted the study with Alexis Cooke and Elycia Mulholland of the University of California, Los Angeles. Their results appear online in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.
The researchers conducted exit surveys at four dispensaries in Long Beach when California allowed marijuana sales only for medical purposes. A total of 132 patients (33 per