In most states with legal cannabis, retail licensees are hot commodities. Licenses are typically limited, and the competition for them can be fierce. For those who are new to the cannabis industry, the licensure process can be overwhelming. How do you know what regulators are looking for? What makes a successful dispensary application stand out from the rest?
After analyzing several winning dispensary applications, we found six unifying qualities. From thorough business plans to community support, keep reading to learn how to complete the best dispensary application possible.
1) Check The Boxes First, Then Enhance
Anyone considering applying for a cannabis retail license should give themselves plenty of time. Becoming an operator can be an arduous journey and successful dispensary applications often require a ton of information. Some details may take longer to flush out, meaning you want to start as early as possible.
“One of the biggest mistakes potential licensees make is procrastinating,” says Shannon O’Mara of Higher Yields Consulting, specialists in dispensary applications. “There are often many long-lead items that applicants need to prepare for, such as securing real estate; obtaining finances and investors to fund the application/license; identifying partners early on like POS software and security providers to allow for a more detailed application.”
In new markets, some applicants gather assets before the applications are available. Bottom line: Start as early as possible if you want a chance at winning.
2) Form The Right Team
Having a stellar leadership team assembled prior to completing your application is crucial for success, both in terms of licensure and long-term business strategy. It’s good to have a diverse network of individuals to be able to align your team’s previous experiences and successes and how it applies to cannabis if there isn’t any cannabis experience on the team.
It’s not enough to have people well-versed in growing cannabis or running a store. Working with experts in compliance, finance, human resources, manufacturing and consumer-packaged goods is always a plus.
3) Tighten Up Your SOPs
One thing regulators want to be certain of is whether your team is equipped to run a cannabis business long-term. This means having clearly defined standard operating procedures (SOPs) and a robust business plan. The dispensary application is a way to build trust with regulators—use it to show how your company will benefit the community by creating steady jobs and consistent tax revenue.
Think of it as a job application: Your state is investing in your business and needs reassurance that there’s ROI.
4) Focus on What Matters to Regulators
Successful dispensary applications should be thorough, but the information within should be pertinent. Many potential operators overshare, which may confuse application scorers and put your page limit over.
Depending on the competitive nature of the application, regulators will typically require you to include a narrative that demonstrates compliance within the following areas:
- Security (alarm monitoring and video surveillance)
- Diversion Prevention
- Employee Qualifications and Training Requirements
- Plans for Product Transport/Receipt
- Compliant Packaging and Labeling Verification
- Inventory Management/Storage Practices
- Recordkeeping/Electronic Tracking System
- Recall Procedures
- Waste Management Plans
You may also need to show your site or floor plans with security overlays as well as zoning and setback compliance documentation. Noting access to capital and corresponding financial models or proformas will also be helpful, as it shows your business is equipped to go the distance. Knowing where to best use content, being specific in the pertinent areas, and citing where it applies to specific regulations within the cannabis program is essential.
5) Demonstrate Community Support
Most legal states want to focus on building a cannabis industry from within. This is why it’s crucial for potential operators to spend time in their desired markets, building relationships and making emotional deposits. Local letters of support are huge and can make a big difference to regulators. These are an opportunity for others to vouch for your business and demonstrate a desire from the community to have you be a part of it.
6) Hire a Cannabis Consultant
So, you’ve made your list; now it’s time to check it twice. Maybe even three or four times. Consider working with a professional with experience winning dispensary applications. They can tell you what may be missing from your materials and offer advice on how to speak the regulatory language. Having an attorney put eyes on the application is also a good idea since the type of writing is legal in nature.
Potential licensees need someone familiar with the application process, as well as someone with a network who can identify the team’s needs and provide professionals not simply to check the boxes but also to help compete with MSOs (
Successful dispensary applications are a marathon, but once you reach the finish line, a win makes all the hard work worth it. Ensure you have the best chance at getting a license by adding all the elements above to your materials—otherwise, all the effort may be for nothing.