Potency and safety analysis of hemp-derived delta-9 products: The hemp vs. cannabis demarcation problem

A medical cannabis dispensary in Denver, Colorado.

A cannabis retail outlet (also known as cannabis shop, cannabis dispensary, cannabis store, cannabis cooperative) is a location at which cannabis is sold or otherwise dispensed, either for recreational or for medical use.

Due to the complex legal regimes surrounding cannabis, cannabis shops have different names and modalities depending on the jurisdiction. In the Netherlands these are called coffeeshops.[1] In the United States they exist as an outlet for both recreational and medical use, often called dispensaries. In other jurisdictions like Malta, Spain, Uruguay, Germany, cannabis dispensation takes place in cannabis social clubs, legally not considered as a retail shop but as non-profit cooperatives. Finally, there are other types of cannabis shops like Bhang shops in India and experimental cannabis dispensation systems in Switzerland.

Cannabis shops differ from head shops in that the latter sells only drug paraphernalia. The world's largest cannabis dispensary is in Las Vegas, Nevada at 112,000 square feet opened by Planet 13 Holdings.[2][3]

Types of cannabis retail outlets


Coffeeshop in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cannabis selling coffeeshops began in the 1970s. Establishments like Mellow Yellow coffeeshop were known for open cannabis smoking and dealing. After an explosion of hard drugs authorities began to tolerate soft drugs and legalized cannabis selling in registered coffeeshops.[4]


Government-owned cannabis dispensary in British Columbia, Canada

In Canada and certain territories of the United States, dispensaries distribute cannabis to the general public or in some cases only to approved patients.[5] In Uruguay cannabis dispensaries are built by the government and can sell to the public.[6]

In 2015, the City of San Diego made A Green Alternative the first licensed medical cannabis dispensary and delivery service in the city.[7]

Dispensaries in Canada are also popularly known as cannabis stores (Canadian English).

Cannabis social club

A Cannabis social club (CSC) is a non-profit members-only industry model for non-medical cannabis. CSCs do not "sell" cannabis as such: legally, they only grow the amount needed for their members in exchange for the costs of production (a form of delegation of home cultivation to the club). The exchange of the product against money is not considered a sale, but a sharing of the costs of production, and therefore can be considered a personal activity, happening in collective private settings.[8]

CSCs exist without specific regulation, taking advantage of legal precedents, in New Zealand, Spain,[9] Belgium,[10] France,[11] the Netherlands,[12] Slovenia,[13] and Austria.[14] They are regulated by law in Uruguay (since 2014), Malta (since 2021), and Germany (since 2024).

Bhang shop

A bhang shop in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

In India, several Indian states allow licensed bhang shops to sell bhang, a decoction of cannabis. They mainly sell traditional cannabis-infused Indian bhang drinks Bhang lassi and Bhang thandai.


In Switzerland, the first pilot project of recreational adult use dispensation, half-way between a dispansary and a cannabis club, started on 31 January 2023.

The Netherlands is also experimenting a legal dispensary system, in parallel of its coffeeshop model. The pilot project started in December 2023.[citation needed]


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