Designed to Stand Out: How to Design Your New York Cannabis Dispensary

A.W. Naves
March 8, 2023

With legal adult-use cannabis sales in New York State expected to hit approximately $4.2 billion by 2027, you may be looking to open a dispensary. While there are many things to consider, the first thing you’ll need to do is apply for a conditional adult-use retail dispensary license from the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). During the application process, you’ll need to consider dispensary design for the required site plan.

Designing a cannabis dispensary can be an exciting but challenging process. A well-designed dispensary not only enhances the overall customer experience, but also reflects the brand's identity and values. By developing a cohesive design, you can create a dispensary that meets the needs of your customers, while setting you apart from the competition.

Let’s look at some of the factors you’ll need to consider when establishing a cannabis dispensary.

New York Licensing

First, you must apply for a license to own and operate a cannabis dispensary. Applications are accepted online via the OCM site. Initially, New York is offering conditional adult-use retail dispensary (CAURD) licenses to those who meet the following requirements:

  1. You must be “justice-involved” — This means that you or a direct family member must have a marijuana-based conviction dated before March 21, 2021.
  2. You must have owned a 10% stake in a successful business for at least two years.
  3. Individual applicants must be a resident of New York.
  4. Corporate applicants created under New York laws must have a substantial business presence in New York.

To learn more about the CAURD license, check out the FAQ page.

A yellow cab driving down a lively New York city street.

New York Cannabis Compliance

One aspect of designing your cannabis dispensary is ensuring that you comply with local laws. Here are some of the most important laws and regulations to be aware of when designing your New York dispensary.


Dispensary sales are limited to cannabis products, cannabis paraphernalia, secure storage items, and approved branded merchandise of the licensee. Products must not be viewable from outside the store.

Exterior Signage

Outdoor signage must be affixed to a permanent structure. It can include up to two signs, limited to 1600 square inches each.

Interior Signage

Dispensaries must provide consumer education materials with each purchase that includes information about the safe consumption of cannabis products and public health warnings. These must be posted in visible locations.


All products for sale inside the dispensary must include a price tag, sign, or card stating the item’s price and total cost (including tax).


Minimum and maximum staffing levels are determined by the site plan submitted for approval.

It can be easy to focus on your dispensary's aesthetic and decor, but if you fail to follow the cannabis compliance laws for New York, then you can be hit with hefty fines — which will eat into your design budget. Always prioritize compliance and functionality when designing your dispensary.

Dispensary Security

While security is vital for any retail location, it is especially important in the cannabis industry because it is a requirement for owning a dispensary. When designing your New York dispensary, keep the following security measures in mind.


Main storage vaults must be constructed with at least eight inches of concrete (or similar material) that has been reinforced with half-inch steel rods (or similar). Smaller storage locations can be made to allow for metal stud framing and barrier mesh, upon approval.

Video Surveillance

24-hour video surveillance is required. Design fixtures and accessories cannot obstruct the camera’s view and you should plan for sufficient lighting to illuminate the camera’s point of view. Your video surveillance equipment must:

  • Record 24 hours per day and be viewable in real-time
  • Maintain recordings for at least 90 days in a secure manner that ensures they can be authenticated as being unaltered
  • Date and time-stamp videos in a manner that doesn’t obscure the visual content
  • Include battery backups in case of power failure

Alarm Systems

A security alarm system triggered by motion detectors must be operational at all points of entry and exit. Avoid placing plants and moving signage near the motion detectors to avoid false alarms.

Physical Security

You may employ a security guard, but this is not required by law. If you choose to employ security, you will need to allot space for security staff.

Two security cameras outside a New York dispensary.

Dispensary Design and Location

Although the state of New York has legalized cannabis and is issuing cannabis licenses, that doesn’t mean you can open a dispensary anywhere and everywhere. New York cannabis legislation allowed individual municipalities to opt out of allowing the state to issue licenses for cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption amenities. 764 municipalities opted out of dispensaries and 883 opted out of on-site consumption locations that will, therefore, not be an option for you.

You should also consider the following requirements that will affect your building choice:

  • Dispensaries cannot be located on the same road or within 500 feet of a school or 200 feet of a church.
  • Dispensaries cannot be located within 1,000 - 2,000 feet of one another, depending on the size of the municipality.
  • Dispensaries must not impact normal foot or street traffic, or interfere with normal parking outside their premises.

You will also want to consider the cost of renting or buying a suitable location:

  • Real estate can be quite expensive in New York, and you may be required to pay a cannabis premium for rent. You’re likely looking at a monthly rental cost of $3,500, or even higher.
  • Purchasing a property is also an option. Keep in mind that prices in New York can range from $128 per square foot to $393 per square foot, not including the cost of any additional construction or renovations needed.
  • According to Grow American Builders, renovations or reconstruction for a New York cannabis business can range anywhere from $350,000 for a small dispensary to as much as $1 million for a larger location.

To ensure that you are selecting the best location, consult a real estate professional experienced in cannabis property sales or rentals to help you with your search.

Dispensary Design and Brand Identity

How your customers perceive your dispensary will depend on your brand identity. When looking at dispensary design, you will want to incorporate how you intend to conduct business into your location and layout. Everything from your lighting to your budtender interactions is a part of your brand identity.

Before designing your dispensary, visualize your ideal customer.

  • Who are they?
  • How old are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What do they need?
  • What is their occupation or professional industry?
  • What are their cannabis consumption habits and preferences?
  • What are their hobbies?

This type of information will allow you to better understand who your target audience is and how to build your brand identity. You will then be able to determine whether you want to design your dispensary for efficiency or education and experimentation. This can determine everything from the location you choose to the products you provide.

A bright and airy New York dispensary with a marble check out counter.


If you choose to set up your dispensary for efficiency, you may want to consider a bank or pharmacy-style dispensary design that offers a more limited product selection. This type of layout doesn’t require as much floor space for display and can be operated from a single counter, depending on anticipated traffic. Floor space can be smaller with minimal staff. You might even consider the use of self-service kiosks where customers can select products to be picked up at a nearby counter.

Educational and Experimental

For a customer base new to the concept of purchasing cannabis, you will want to provide cannabis education. Design your dispensary to maximize display space so that customers can browse at their leisure and look at the products you offer. Incorporating floor budtenders to discuss products and place orders via handheld tablets can help streamline the purchase process once a selection has been made.

There is a lot to consider in determining how to design a profitable adult-use cannabis facility, but if you take the time to research your options and opportunities, you can become one of the many entrepreneurs who have joined the budding new world of cannabis industry professionals.

Final Thoughts on New York Dispensary Design

By taking time to consider compliance, security, location, and brand identity, you will be able to design a dispensary that appeals to the customers you seek. If you need assistance, there are plenty of experts in the cannabis industry who can help select a location, create a dispensary design, and market your brand. Once your dispensary is established, accounting and HR tools such as KayaPush’s cannabis software can help you maintain the required records for your successful New York dispensary.

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March 2023


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