If you are wondering how to get a cannabis license, you are not alone. This industry is booming, with more and more entrepreneurs hoping to obtain their licensing and start their dispensary.
Once you have become eligible for a cannabis license, it’s time to put in the real work and secure licensing through your state. But this isn’t a black and white process, as you’ll learn below. It varies state by state, as each governing body wants to see different things.
I am going to cover what it takes to snag that license, keep it, and thrive with it. I am going to share my experience with being granted a cannabis license for my own retail storefront in Washington State, so you can take away some real-world experience from this post. But first, let’s break down licensing in the simplest way possible.
How to get a cannabis license: The Short Version
When I discuss how to get a cannabis license, I will mostly be speaking from the perspective of Washington State -- because that’s where we obtained ours. But later on in this post, we’ll cover how to get your retail cannabis license in each and every state.
Now, there may be little variances for what is required of you in your state, but I would be willing to bet that for the most part, you will have to deal with something similar.
From a 60,000 foot view, obtaining a retail cannabis license can be broken down into two steps:
- Developing the business plans for your dispensary
- Actually carrying out the business plans for your dispensary
Developing business plans for your dispensary
To get the process started, in Washington state, we needed to develop plans for our retail cannabis storefront before we could even get the ball rolling.
This consisted of securing a location for the dispensary, acquiring funding, registering your business on a state and federal level, and essentially getting your ducks in a row. Then, you would supply all this when applying for your cannabis license.
If you are unable to complete this process, you won’t be eligible for obtaining a retail cannabis license -- and thus cannot move onto step 2, which is carrying out the business plans for your dispensary.
Carrying out the business plans for your dispensary
Once you have shown the state that you should be a legitimate contender for a retail cannabis license, you will hopefully be selected for a license.
In Washington, we had a lottery. All of the eligible entrepreneurs had their names thrown in a hat, and a lucky few were selected to receive their licenses to operate a dispensary. There is a good chance this is how it will be in your state, too.
From there, the hard work can really begin. Luckily, you’ll have done much of the work to become eligible, and it is just a matter of execution.
If you are just trying to figure out how to get started in your respective state, go ahead and scroll down. But, I want to quickly share my experience obtaining licensing in Washington State. This is super valuable, and I really encourage you to check out the short video below along with the accompanying text. You won’t find many cannabis licensing consultants willing to share this type of information for free!
Our experience getting a retail cannabis license
Cannabis Central has been in operation for over five years at this point, but we had some trouble at first.
We were selected in the lottery and began putting the pieces together to set up our retail storefront. However, we ran into some trouble.
Part of our business plan included our location. The location we had decided on was on railroad property. When we went through and did our due diligence, the company was supportive and all was good. Then, after we were granted our license, they changed their mind.
We no longer had a viable location.
The LCB (liquor control board, the regulating agency) gave us a week to find a new location.
It seemed impossible, and it would have been easy to give up. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the cannabis industry, its that you need to expect the unexpected, and be resilient. It all worked out in the end, so I know a thing or two about facing adversity when it comes to getting a cannabis license by any means possible!
How to get a retail cannabis license in each state
As we mentioned earlier, your state plays a huge role in what steps you need to take. Different states will have different requirements, but for the most part, you’ll go through similar processes. After all, new states constantly use the existing framework from legal states to develop their own. Here is some quick info on how to get a cannabis license in each state:
Alaska cannabis licensing
In Alaska, legal cannabis is governed by the Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office. Per the Alaskan Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, there are a few codes you need to review -- including Title 17.28 of the Alaska Statuses and Chapter 306 of the Alaska Administrative Code.
Then, follow the instructions on the New License Application sheet. It covers many of the questions you likely have, but if you are still not 100% positive on what your next steps should be, let’s circle up and I can point you in the right direction.
Arizona cannabis licensing
The Arizona Department of Health Services runs the medical cannabis program in Arizona, and periodically offers new dispensary licenses.
This checklist by the AzDHS outlines their criteria for who can and cannot operate a licensed dispensary within the state of Arizona, and should you want to apply, this is what you would fill out. Again, don’t go in blind -- let’s talk!
Arkansas cannabis licensing
In Arkansas, there is a dedicated Medical Marijuana Commission in charge of the medical cannabis program.
The AMMC application requires a background check (as do all states), along with plenty of other documents and applications. The application page here is a good place to get started -- let me know if you have questions.
California cannabis licensing
California is a pretty mature cannabis market, with medical and adult-use programs. However, there are still plenty of opportunities in counties and towns with no existing storefronts.
Another very mature cannabis market, getting a license in Colorado will differ based on whether you take the medical or recreational route. Regardless, you’ll be working with the Colorado Dept. of Revenue.
Both types of application will require that your specific county or municipality allows for retail cannabis storefronts, regardless of the states legal cannabis laws. A complete application packet includes your application, all necessary supporting documents, and of course, the licensing application fee.
Connecticut cannabis licensing
The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection operates the state’s medical marijuana program. Periodically, they will open up more licenses, ranging from 3-10 at a time.
There is a pretty hefty fee to start a licensed cannabis dispensary in Connecticut, along with a stringent application process, which you can always reach out to me about if you run into problems (or even before you have them!).
Delaware cannabis licensing
In Delaware, the medical cannabis program is ran the Public Health Division, and they only offer a limited supply of licenses. As it currently stands, there is just one “compassion center”, with another couple opening soon.
Florida cannabis licensing
In Florida, there is a subdivision of the Florida Health Department known as the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which handles all licensing and regulates the industry.
The state has all it’s cannabis licenses currently accounted for and is not taking applications for more anytime soon.
Hawaii cannabis licensing
The island of Hawaii currently has 8 licensed cannabis stores, and they are regulated by the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. On their site, you can learn about applying for the medical cannabis dispensary program.
Illinois cannabis licensing
This relatively new market is regulated through the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Once you fill out your cannabis license application, you will hear back from the state either requesting more information or with conditional approval.
Louisiana cannabis licensing
With a medical cannabis program just two years old, Louisiana only grants a few specially licensed pharmacies to sell licensed cannabis. The Louisiana Department of Health operated the medical cannabis program, and isn’t actively seeking new applicants for cannabis licenses.
Maine cannabis licensing
There are currently 8 licensed cannabis stores in Maine, which are licensed through the Division of Public Health Systems. New licenses rarely become available, but you can apply for a cannabis license at any time.
Maryland cannabis licensing
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has licensed 22 dispensaries, with plenty of more currently working through the licensing process.
If you want to apply for a cannabis license in Maryland, you’ll need to provide your business plan, information about your medical facility, and a number of other supporting documents.
Massachusetts cannabis licensing
The Massachusetts Department of Health is responsible for regulating cannabis licenses. The first step in starting a dispensary in Massachusetts is acquiring an RMD Certificate of Registration, followed by an application with the Cannabis Control Commission.
Michigan cannabis licensing
Michigan has both medical and adult-use cannabis laws, and the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation is currently accepting applications for cannabis licenses.
Minnesota cannabis licensing
If you are hoping to start a licensed cannabis dispensary in Minnesota, you are likely out of luck. The Minnesota Department of Health is not offering cannabis licenses currently, or anytime soon, and has selected two registered manufacturers to cultivate, and regulates 8 cannabis patient centers.
Montana cannabis licensing
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services operates the state’s medical cannabis program, and periodically opens up spots for new cannabis licenses. On their site, you can find information about applying for a cannabis license. You’ll need what is required in most states -- proof of property, background checks, along with a host of other information. One cool thing about Montana is the low license fee of just $500.
Nevada cannabis licensing
The State of Nevada Department of Taxation regulates cannabis licensing, and as of writing this, there is no sign of licenses coming available soon. However, you can get on a waitlist and will be given a 45-60 day notice for when licenses are coming available, at which point you can apply for a cannabis license.
New Hampshire cannabis licensing
New Hampshire currently has four licensed dispensaries, which are referred to as “alternative treatment centers”. These are regulated by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. As it currently stands, no licenses are available, but you can follow their site for updates to stay in the loop and be ready to act at the drop of a hat.
New Jersey cannabis licensing
The New Jersey Department of Health handles all cannabis licensing. Dispensaries in the sate are referred to as Alternative Treatment Centers, just like in New Hampshire. There are currently six licensed ATC’s, and as it stands, there are no new licenses available. The application window closed on the 22nd of August, but you can follow their website for updates on new license opportunities.
New Mexico cannabis licensing
The medical cannabis program in New Mexico is operated by the Department of Health. To even be considered for a license, you must be a Licensed Non-Profit Producer. On their site, you can find information on the medical cannabis program, but they are not currently seeking new licensees.
New York cannabis licensing
New York’s Department of Health regulates the medical cannabis program, and only Registered Organizations are granted the opportunity to apply for cannabis licenses. However, the state has not been accepting new license applications for quite some time.
North Dakota cannabis licensing
Up in North Dakota, a division of the Department of Health, known as the Division of Medical Marijuana, is responsible for the state’s medical cannabis program. While the state is not currently offering new cannabis licenses, you can still visit their site to find information on applications, background checks, products and limits, and statues on new license opportunities.
Ohio cannabis licensing
Ohio is a pretty new market, with its medical cannabis program less than two years old. The state has a few licensed cannabis dispensaries already, but they may offer more licenses over time. Their site has TONS of information on the application process, including videos on what is required, what you need to know, and all the necessary forms and documents.
Oregon cannabis licensing
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission License is responsible for the state’s medical cannabis program and constantly accepts new applications. If you want to know how to get a cannabis license in Oregon, head over to their site. There is just a $480 application fee, and you can find information on what you need to know before submitting an application, what the process is like, required documents, and what you need to do after applying for a cannabis license.
Rhode Island cannabis licensing
The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation oversees all cannabis licenses in the state. They occasionally open up windows for new licenses, and they currently have just 3 licensed compassion centers. Head over to their site to learn about the application process, discover if licenses are currently available, and what your first steps should be.
Vermont cannabis licensing
In Vermont, the medical cannabis program is run by the Department of Public Safety. There are currently four licensed dispensaries, with a few currently in the works. The department has stated that once their program reaches over 7,000 registered patients, they will open up more cannabis licenses for registered dispensaries.
Washington cannabis licensing
In Washington, we work with the Liquor and Cannabis Board. I know the most about operating a cannabis dispensary in this state, due to my experience with Cannabis Central. At this time, all available licenses are accounted for, but you can learn more about retail cannabis licenses on the LCB’s site.
Washington D.C. cannabis licensing
The D.C. Department of Health has a medical cannabis program, but at this time, it is not being operated. Adult-use and medical cannabis are both permitted, but there are no licensed dispensaries at this time. Yes, this is a head-scratcher, we know….
How to write a killer cannabis license application
A huge hurdle in being selected for a cannabis license will be standing out from the crowd with a killer application. The requirements and qualifications for your application are very stringent, so you can’t miss a single detail.
Before you even start filling out the application, do your research. This doesn’t mean run a few google searches, or even just this article -- you need to do some real digging. Start a conversation with someone like myself, Rob Hendrix, who has been through this process. You don’t know what you don’t know, and finding out what that is exactly is a great first step. Then, get on the phone with the agencies involved -- build relationships with the party responsible for licensing, and find out what they want from you.
Your city is likely going to hold open forums regarding legal cannabis coming to town. It is imperative that you be at these meetings. You need to put a name and a face to your business and engage the community. Be friendly, be open, and be curious -- find out how people in your area feel about you opening a cannabis shop.
The community may not support you at first, and its up to you to change their minds. Start building relationships with the right people, and you’ll set yourself apart from the crowd.
Use this knowledge when writing your licensing application
Once you have a better idea of what you’re up against, fill out your application to a T -- don’t draw outside the lines. It goes without saying that your application needs to be as cohesive, and well written as possible -- take it to your high school English teacher if needed.
Hiring a cannabis licensing consultancy
If you want an extra edge to make sure you have the best chance of success (you are paying money to submit this, after all), get an experienced set of eyes on your application. Choosing a cannabis licensing consultancy is not easy, though, with so many firms out there trying to stake their claim in this industry. How do you sift through all the consulting firms to find one that will actually help you succeed?
Vetting your cannabis licensing consultant
The easiest way to tell if you are working with the real deal or a fraud is to ask your cannabis licensing consultant for their credentials. Have they successfuly started their own dispensary or retail storefront? If not, why would you pay them to help you start yours? They have no real skin in the game.
I started Cannabis Consulting Nationwide because I went through this process. I know how frustrating and confusing it can be. Plain and simple -- I know how to start a cannabis business. Cannabis Central is still profitable, and more importantly, violation-free, many years after being started.
I know what regulators want to see, and I know what they consider red flags. Reach out to me and let me help you with your application, or just reach out with any questions. You have a friend in this industry, and his name is Rob Hendrix. I won’t charge you anything for a phone call or an email, the first hour of my time is always free. You can contact me here.