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How to Make Your Cannabis Dispensary More Disability-Friendly

August 16, 2017
How to Make Your Cannabis Shop More Disability-Friendly(nullplus/iStock)
Walking into a dispensary can be an intimidating experience. Whether the customer is a newbie or a seasoned cannabis consumer, it still requires some confidence to walk in, talk to strangers about a previously illegal drug, and find the right products.

For someone who lives with a disability, this endeavor could be next to impossible. Medical marijuana is now legal in a majority of states, and most of the qualifying medical conditions are officially considered a disability by the US government. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, as of 2015, there were 53 million Americans living with some kind of disability, making disabled adults one of the largest minority groups in the United States. More than one of out of every five adults (22%) experiences some kind of physical, functional, mental, or sensory disability in the United States.


Qualifying conditions for medical marijuana by state

However, because cannabis is still federally restricted under the Controlled Substances Act, there is no federally-mandated law that states dispensaries are required to adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act. This means medical marijuana patients are not only at risk of losing their job and/or government assistance benefits due to state-legal cannabis use, the dispensaries they visit are also not required to make accommodations for them.
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Ways to Better Accommodate Disabled Visitors

Consider making a few adjustments to your dispensary to make the experience a little easier for disabled customers or medical marijuana patients:

  • Install a ramp and widen doorways to make your shop more wheelchair accessible.
  • Make chairs available in the lobby and waiting room for those who have trouble standing for long periods of time.
  • Designate a staff member to cater to patients with special needs.
  • Install a dimmer switch to adjust the lighting for those who have head trauma, seizures, or light sensitivities.
  • Print menus with extra-large font for patients with poor vision.
  • Offer a veteran’s discount for former service members and disabled veterans (according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are 3.5 million veterans living with a disability right now, including an estimated 30% of veterans who live with a “signature” disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI), both considered a “service-connected” disability)
  • Schedule “quiet days” for patients with sensory issues or anxiety.
  • Offer a free shuttle from central locations to your dispensary for those without transportation or who have limited mobility.
  • Allow service and therapy dogs to enter your store premises with their owners.
  • Train your employees to understand and work effectively with disabled customers.
  • Create employment opportunities for disabled workers, particularly who that may specialize in helping medical marijuana patients.

How to Train Your Budtenders to Better Serve Customers and Patients

Hiring Employees With Disabilities

Employment opportunities for disabled individuals do not come easily, especially if they are a certified medical marijuana patient. Those who are found to be using drugs or alcohol often don’t qualify for disability benefits, and that includes individuals who use cannabis for medicinal or therapeutic purposes. The unemployment rate for disabled persons in the US was 17.9% in 2016, nearly four times the national unemployment rate, listed as 4.3% in May of 2017.


Should Dispensaries Allow Cannabis Use on the Job?

Offering positions that make a reasonable accommodation for disabled adults could mean a huge difference in the quality of life for a person who might not otherwise be able to contribute to society through the workforce. Furthermore, having a staff member with a disability involved in the medical marijuana industry means they may be able to empathize with other disabled customers and offer curated recommendations and a more relatable customer experience.
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What other tips or suggestions do you have to make your business more disability-friendly? Share your insight in the comments!

Lisa Rough's Bio Image

Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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  • People also do not realize that all websites are required to be ADA accessible too. Other businesses have been successfully sued for not doing so. Some of these companies inlcude: Google, Nordstrom, Holland America, etc. Furthermore, California is already a hotbed for ADA class action lawsuits. There are a very specific set of programming tasks to make a cannabis website ADA Accessible. Once the coding is done, the website must be evaluated and certified. Not only is it the LAW. But it makes it easy for folks with hearing disabilities, blindness, color blindness, motor skill disabilities, to access your product. Before people get to your store, they have to find you on the Internet.

  • Denise Valenti

    Thank you for this educational piece. It is progressive and you should be congratulated for caring.
    Many do not care and do not wish to include those with disabilities in the economic movement and opportunity related to marijuana.
    I would like to point out that the state of Massachusetts in their recent legislation– as well as the final bill signed by the governor, ignored the needs of the diverse category of disabled when giving consideration to socially and economically disadvantaged groups. While the employment and needs of other diverse groups; ethnic, racial and gender were specifically addressed and the commission and advisory panels were required to have representation from those groups….there was no such consideration for disabled. There is no mention of disabled anywhere in the plans to move forward with marijuana businesses. So the opportunities to facilitate the overall access and attitude of those in the marijuana business was lost. The marijuana industry presents some excellent opportunities for business and employment for all nature of physical, sensory and cognitive disabled.

  • Denise Valenti

    Question, what leads one to conclude that just because the business of marijuana is not sanctioned by the federal government that they would be exempt from ADA compliance?

  • Will Cunningham

    I wish I could work. I have autism and a nerve disorder and cannabis is the only thing that helps. It’s hard being in my state where it’s illegal so I have to suffer while knowing what works and I can’t go and find a random dealer and have no money. I’d move if I could. All I want is to be in the cannabis industry to help the disabled and veterans with PTSD get medication that works, not more synthetics.