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Sunday June 20, 2021

By Erin Hiatt


When it comes to shopping, consumers have come to expect a certain model of customer service – one where “the customer is always right.” Ethos reigns and refunds and exchanges are a pretty standard expectation. However, cannabis is not a “normal” consumer good. Lest we forget, cannabis remains a federally illegal Schedule I substance, and despite statewide legalization laws, most states have it within their regulations that exchanges and refunds are not permitted for both medicinal and adult-use purchases from either a dispensary or product manufacturer.

Furthermore, cannabis laws vary from state to state and even locality to locality, so as a consumer it’s difficult to know what policies your local dispensary has in place. If you shop at some place like Target, for example, it’s safe to assume you can get a refund or exchange any product at any Target. That same assumption cannot be made for cannabis products, whether you buy it in person or online. How does one navigate the uncertain landscape? Join us as we take a look at cannabis’ unique return laws.

Regulations Complicate Returns

Typically there are two primary reasons for wanting to return cannabis or a cannabis product. It could be that you are unsatisfied with a product (maybe you didn’t get as high as you thought you should, or the topical didn’t work) or you found that the product was defective (your new vaporizer didn’t heat up, for example). Seems pretty straightforward, but states have specific laws written into the books about what businesses have to accept as a return.

Let’s take a look at California. Their Civil Code section 1723 states that sellers are not required by law to accept returned items unless they are defective. But, the law also requires that retailers who will not provide a cash refund, credit or exchange must inform their customers about the policy with a conspicuous notice in language easy to understand. This policy may apply to some or even all products, but either way, the notice has to be clear and unequivocal. In California, if the seller does not make this information easily available to the consumer, the purchaser can return the item for a full refund within 30 days of purchase.

Someone holding some cannabis nugs
Most cannabis products, like flower, is considered unreturnable by most states. photo credit

However, there is the cannabis caveat, meaning that some merchandise is not “returnable by its nature or is not considered to be returnable.” That includes food, plants, flowers, and perishable goods. In other words, pretty much anything you might buy at a dispensary. Some states even have laws explicitly stating that returns or exchanges of cannabis goods are strictly prohibited.

But let’s say that you bought a cannabis product that was moldy or had mites. That may fall under the auspices of a defective product, in which case it may be covered by an “implied warranty,” which states that unwritten and unspoken warranties are legal contracts based upon the common law concept of fair value of money spent.

Refunding/Exchanging Cannabis

Still, this is all a bit confusing, right? If you get moldy cannabis from the dispensary you should be able to exchange it or get your money back. However, at this point in the still-young cannabis industry’s evolution, that simply isn’t the case.

You may be able to make an exchange (depending on the business and the state) but do not expect a refund.

In most cases, you simply won’t get it, no matter how many dispensary workers you punch

However, the industry is maturing, and some dispensaries are putting customer service closer to the forefront of their business practice, leading with the thought that a happy customer equals a return customer, especially when it comes to refunds and exchanges. But not every business currently has the latitude to do so or are wary of getting entangled in federal laws.

Buyer Beware

Until the day comes when cannabis firms have more latitude to make friendlier customer service policies, the onus is definitely on the consumer to know the refund/exchange policy at each business they patronize. 

So remember, before making a cannabis purchase, regardless of whether it’s a piece of hardware or a consumable product, ask upfront (or investigate on a company’s website) what the company’s refund and exchange policy is. This goes for online purchases, too. That way if you do get a defective product, you’ll have the information you need to proceed. As always, the citizenry is ahead of the lawmakers when it comes to cannabis, so be patient with your budtender, especially if – and most likely when – they tell you that you can’t have your money back.

Are you able to easily make returns and exchanges on cannabis products in your area? Share your experiences in the comments!

Photo Credit: sabinevanerp (license)


Erin Hiatt Erin Hiatt

Erin Hiatt is a New York City-based writer who has been covering the cannabis industry for more than six years. Her work - which has appeared in Hemp Connoisseur Magazine, PotGuide, Civilized, Vice, Freedom Leaf, MERRY JANE, Alternet, and CannaInvestor - covers a broad range of topics, including cannabis policy and law, CBD, hemp law and applications, science and technology, beauty, and psychedelics.

Erin's work and industry insights have been featured on the podcasts The Let's Go Eat Show, In the Know 420, and she has appeared as a featured panelist on the topic of hemp media. Erin has interviewed top industry experts such as Dr. Carl Hart, Ethan Nadelmann, Amanda Feilding, Mark A.R. Kleiman, Dr. James Fadiman, and culture icons Governor Jesse Ventura, and author Tom Robbins. You can follow her work on LinkedInWordpress, @erinhiatt on Twitter, and @erinisred on Instagram.

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