Recently, medical marijuana has been legalized in some US states, making it extremely easy for Americans in places like Colorado to snag some for medical problems ranging from chronic pain to depression. However, despite all that progress, it's still not possible to buy the drug in a local pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens. People who are interested in getting some must instead head to small start-up medical marijuana dispensaries to get their fixes.
Medical marijuana is a big business, with a Bloomberg article estimating it may be a $6 billion industry within the next five years. So what's keeping chain pharmacies from cashing in on the marijuana boom? Because even marijuana for medical uses is forbidden by federal laws, that means many banks are also hesitant to accept profits that were gained by the sale of the drug.
Perhaps they're rightfully nervous about getting in trouble with the government, and because of that, drugstore chains seem likely to be out of the picture for at least the next few years. There are many regulations to endure, and because of that, the major drugstore players seem content to let the local shops stay in control for the foreseeable future.
Specifically, medical marijuana is federally classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. Although almost half of US states, plus the District of Columbia accept marijuana for medical use, that permission is not shared by the federal government. Schedule I substances cannot legally be dispensed or prescribed, and they are also considered having a high probability of making a user become addicted.
All pharmacies must register with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to dispense their products. CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens have said they have no plans to sell medical marijuana because it would violate existing agreements with the DEA.
Although there's that clear obstacle that stands in the way of pharmacies being your resources for medical marijuana, Colorado is at least one state that's trying to make it easier for dispensaries to do banking without hassles. There are plans to open a series of uninsured banking cooperatives there that would function similarly to credit unions.
Local lawmakers have backed this measure of financial progress for medical marijuana shops, but the federal government will still need to get involved by permitting the dispensaries to do things like accept credit cards. Currently, people who want to buy medical marijuana have to pony up the cash for it. If you were getting your hopes up about soon being able to purchase some from your familiar neighborhood pharmacy, hopefully you now have insight about why you'll likely be waiting a while longer for that privilege, especially since even paying for the goods with a credit card isn't allowed yet.
[Photo Credit: Opposing Views]