How to tell if a cannabis dispensary is legal? Pull out your phone

To tell if a dispensary is licensed or not, use your phone to scan the QR code by its front door. Also standard business hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Photo by Shutterstock.

The California Legislature just approved a $100 million boost to the state’s struggling legal marijuana industry. It still needs approval from Governor Newsom, but if he signs off on it, Los Angeles will reportedly see the biggest chunk of the funding. Some say it can help create a thriving, well regulated and legal cannabis market. Currently, the industry is still far outnumbered by unlicensed businesses according to researchers

Alex Traverso, communications chief of the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, says the illicit marijuana market is still too big. “That's the problem. But we're trying to attack it in a variety of ways, obviously, with licensing, getting more more people licensed as quickly as we can.”

Some people who are trying to break into the cannabis market say the current process for retailers to switch from a temporary, provisional license to a permanent one is costly and complicated. Traverso says a mix of things can help address that, from supporting license applicants to having strong enforcement against illegal operators.

How can cannabis consumers tell the difference between legal and illegal retailers?

One thing to look out for: business hours.  Traverso says, “Standard hours of operation are … 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. So if you see a shop open at midnight or 1 in the morning, and people lingering out front, that's not a licensed shop.”

Also look behind the counter. “If you see cannabis flowers behind the shelf in a big glass jar and people are digging around with their hands … that would be against our rules as well.”

Most importantly, the state has created a QR code that people can scan with their phones that will tell you whether a retailer is licensed or not. Traverso says, “It's right at the front door so they don't even have to walk in the front door before they see the QR code on the license. They can scan that just to make sure they're going to the right place.”

While some consumers and retailers say high state and local taxes are helping the illegal cannabis market thrive, Traverso says it’s not that easy. “Our system is built on local control. So cities and counties can really determine their tax rates.”

He says the state is just five years into creating the cannabis system and its plan of consolidating multiple licensing authorities into one can help streamline the process. “The industry will have a one-stop shop for cannabis. … Change is around the horizon.”