Locating Medical and Recreational Cannabis Outlets for Research Purposes

Online Methods and Observational Study

Published in: Journal of Medical Internet Research, Volume 22, Number 2 (February 2020). doi: 10.2196/16853

by Eric R. Pedersen, Caislin Firth, Jennifer L. Parker, Regina A. Shih, Steven Davenport, Anthony Rodriguez, Michael Stephen Dunbar, Lisa Kraus, Joan S. Tucker, Elizabeth J. D'Amico

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An increasing number of states have laws for the legal sale of recreational and medical cannabis out of brick-and-mortar storefront locations. Given the proliferation of cannabis outlets and their potential for impact on local economies, neighborhood structures, and individual patterns of cannabis use, it is essential to create practical and thorough methods to capture the location of such outlets for research purposes. However, methods used by researchers vary greatly between studies and often do not include important information about the retailer's license status and storefront signage.


The aim of this study was to find methods for locating and observing cannabis outlets in Los Angeles County after the period when recreational cannabis retailers were granted licenses and allowed to be open for business.


The procedures included searches of online cannabis outlet databases, followed by methods to verify each outlet's name, address, license information, and open status. These procedures, conducted solely online, resulted in a database of 531 outlets. To further verify each outlet's information and collect signage data, we conducted direct observations of the 531 identified outlets.


We found that 80.9% (430/531) of these outlets were open for business, of which 37.6% (162/430) were licensed to sell cannabis. Unlicensed outlets were less likely to have signage indicating the store sold cannabis, such as a green cross, which was the most prevalent form of observed signage. Co-use of cannabis and tobacco/nicotine has been found to be a substantial health concern, and we observed that 40.6% (175/430) of cannabis outlets had a tobacco/nicotine outlet within sight of the cannabis outlet. Most (350/430, 81.4%) cannabis outlets were located within the City of Los Angeles, and these outlets were more likely to be licensed than outlets outside the city.


The findings of this study suggest that online searches and observational methods are both necessary to best capture accurate and detailed information about cannabis outlets. The methods described here can be applied to other metropolitan areas to more accurately capture the availability of cannabis in an area.

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