Someone has asked me why California dispensaries call themselves pharmacies or apothecaries. Aren’t they violating any state law? The answer is not a simple Yes or No.

Cal Bus. & Prof. Code § 4343. Reads:

                  “No building shall have upon it or displayed within it or affixed to or used in connection with it a sign bearing the word or words “Pharmacist,” “Pharmacy,” “Apothecary,” “Drugstore,” “Druggist,” “Drugs,” “Medicine,” “Medicine Store,” “Drug Sundries,” “Remedies,” or any word or words of similar or like import; or the characteristic symbols of pharmacy; or the characteristic prescription sign (Rx) or similar design, unless there is upon or within the building a pharmacy holding a license issued by the board pursuant to Section 4110.”

After reading this statute, it appears that all dispensaries that call themselves pharmacies or apothecaries are violating the state law. However, I am not aware of any state actions against such dispensaries. Why? The intent of the above § 4343 was to prevent consumer confusion about the licensed status of the premises.  And surely, there is some confusion when you see an ad for “Green Pharmacy” and think that you should transfer your prescriptions there and it turns out to be a dispensary.

The ambiguity of § 4343 is likely to be a reason why we don’t see any actions against these dispensaries-“pharmacies.” If you read § 4343 closely, it applies only to a building. And the argument a dispensary’s lawyer is likely to make if the action is brought against the client is that a dispensary does not own a building, does not display a sign affixed to it, and it does not use its website in connection with a building. And of course, don’t forget the usual argument that it has the first amendment right to say anything in connection with its business. So if the government wants to avoid consumer confusion and enforce § 4343, the Legislature must update § 4343 and add some clarity to what it actually means.

Interestingly, some states allow their pharmacies to handle and dispense cannabinoids.  Three states currently require that a pharmacist operates or be present at a dispensary: Connecticut, Minnesota, and New York. The Connecticut’s law is particularly interesting in that it has rescheduled marijuana to a Schedule II substance and it must be reported to the Connecticut Prescription Monitoring and Reporting System (PDMP). This enables prescribers and other pharmacies to see dispensed marijuana products in the patient’s medical profile and history, which is likely to improve the outcomes and compliance with other therapies prescribed to the patient.

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