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Cannabis 101: Dispensaries

cannabis dispensary jars
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Cannabis 101: Dispensaries

When it comes to shopping for cannabis, you never forget your first time.

Now that weed is legal in more than half the nation, millions of people have the luxury of stepping inside their friendly neighborhood cannabis dispensary to stock up on a wide array of concoctions from the mad science minds of marijuana. It’s a veritable candy store for the red-eyed aficionado, a lengthy departure from a time when procuring pot meant needing to know a guy who knows a guy who knows someone who buys from this dude down in Miami, and then waiting around by the phone all weekend for the one guy to call. No, a cannabis dispensary is a much better deal. They have set hours, they’re clean and nobody gets mad if you call past 10 pm.

Yet, while these retail shops are precisely what the cannabis community has spent decades trying to achieve, there’s some anxiety, a twinge of awkwardness, if you will, involved in visiting one for the first time. It’s not like sitting around a dealer’s living room making small talk while he weighs out an eighth. It’s more like an Apple store, and just as intimidating. All told, nobody really knows what they’re doing, especially the unseasoned shopper. And while the adventure is half the fun, not understanding how to navigate a dispensary properly can result in a less-than-pleasant experience.

Prepping for Your First Cannabis Dispensary Visit

In the interest of helping the cannabis customer hit the legal market with confidence, we talked to dispensary patrons across the nation in hopes of uncovering critical details that they wish someone would have told them before their first time. The results were enlightening.

Everyone knows by now to bring cash and a legal photo ID if they’re expected to be let through the dispensary door. Or maybe, much like Dylan, a 23-year-old from Louisville, they don’t. “I wish someone would’ve told me this before I went,” he says. “Instead, I paid an arm and a leg to pull cash out at their ATM.”

Beyond the need for cash and proper identification, the uncertainty that lies beyond the gates of ganja is enough to induce heart palpitations and a panic attack. An anxiety-riddled consumer might even liken the occasion to that one time they stopped by a local microbrew and were made to feel dumb by a crew of hipster beer snobs for not knowing anything about double-hopped IPAs. Listen, this type of insecurity-driven arrogance is the worker’s problem, not the consumer’s. Those spending money aren’t supposed to be experts, the staff should (must?) help educate.

Fortunately, a dispensary is typically a friendly environment. If it’s not, go somewhere else.“If you don’t like the vibe, you should leave,” Nate, a 30-year-old from Pueblo, CO, says.

Californians Are Spending the Most on Legal Cannabis
Cannabis dispensary offerings.

Don’t Be Shy; They Want to Help

Budtenders, the men and women behind the vast displays of flower, vapes, edibles and concentrates, are paid to ensure the consumer gets the most from their visit. They’re there to assist, and they want the customer to leave happy. Rest assured, you’re not the first newbie to walk through their doors and you won’t be the last.

But everyone is built different, so it’s important to be as open as possible. Clear communication is hands down the most important aspect of a first-time visit. Don’t be shy. Tell the budtender that it’s your first time and provide them with details about any medical conditions, consumption preferences or desired effects that may help them guide you to the appropriate purchase. A great budtender will take the wheel.

Let them show you around and have fun.

“A lot of places will take the time to explain all their products and they have newbie specials that are definitely worth taking advantage of,” reports Richard, a 35-year-old from Eugene, OR.

From there, make sure the budtender is prepared to answer a lot of questions. “Then ask them all,” advises Lissa, a 36-year-old from Lambertville, MI. Sarah of Nashville, concurs, adding that the budtenders she’s had provided guidance and even offered plenty of recommendations. In fact, just like you might inquire with the waiter as to what’s good at a new restaurant, soliciting a budtender for their personal preference is welcome. Most enjoy counseling newcomers. “The people working at dispensaries are usually pretty cool and knowledgeable,” she said. “I’ve learned to ask them questions and get their suggestions. There’s lots of times where I’ve learned a lot or tried something new that I really enjoyed at their suggestion.”

No Stupid Questions, Only Missed Opportunities

What kind of questions should a first-timer be prepared to ask? At the core, buying cannabis is relatively simple. You find something that piques your interest and try it. But the purchasing decision can get somewhat complex depending on the needs of the individual. Are they searching for relief from a specific health condition? Do they want something that isn’t going to make them devour everything in the house? Maybe edibles sound like fun, but they don’t want to go overboard. There aren’t any stupid questions in this arena. If there’s a concern, get an answer.

“A first-time user of any of the products should ask questions related to dosage amounts, and maybe the effects of the various ways of ingestion,” Josh, a 27-year-old from Arlington, says.

Also, don’t get starry-eyed over high THC. Although a first-time buyer may be inclined to select a strain with the highest THC percentage, well-seasoned cannabis consumers argue this is the wrong move. Look at the terpene profiles instead. Terpenes create the aromatics and various characteristics of the cannabis plant. THC is just one component, and it alone doesn’t create a pleasurable experience. “Ignore THC percentages,” advises Rick Thompson, executive director at Michigan NORML. Others echoed this sentiment. “Shop terps not THC,” says a man named Zach.

It also doesn’t hurt to do preliminary research of your own before showing up cold to any given dispensary. Exploring these shops online prior to a visit and examining their menus can provide a new customer with a nice jumping off point for when they’re at the front of the line. So, I saw X-brand was on sale this week. How do you think it would work in terms of managing my elbow pain?

Budtender selecting cannabis at dispensary, cannabis dispensary
It helps to do your research ahead of your first cannabis dispensary visit.

They’re Not All Ganja Geeks, But Be Nice Anyway

Unfortunately, while budtenders are often hardcore cannabis geeks with a plethora of knowledge about the plant, many of them aren’t. “Not all budtenders are nerds and won’t be able to offer much more than a personal opinion,” asserts Lori, a former budtender from Phoenix. “They’re salespeople and will push inventory rather than be your personal little pot guru to guide you through your journey. If you can’t find the pot nerd, then don’t let them rush you and take your time.”

Others wholeheartedly agree, adding that having some idea of what you’re looking for ahead of a visit will help. “They’ll rush you and throw out random suggestions of whatever to keep the line moving, so spending a little time beforehand and knowing the store’s menu makes it much more pleasant than blindly going in and getting handed a clipboard with a million names on it,” warns Adam of Seattle. “Always look online first.”

Several cannabis aficionados contacted also had recommendations for first-timers. Some advise visiting during the week as opposed to the weekend when these shops are traditionally not as busy. That way, the staff will be more apt to spend more quality time showing you around the floor without pressure to hurry up and make a sale so they can move on to the next customer.

Many say it’s also wise to make a budget and stick to it. Be sure to account for taxes and remember that every state taxes differently.

“My first visit, I spent so much money and ended up not smoking it and using it all,” says Tia from Ohio. “I wound up giving a lot of it to my Uber driver.” Oh, and fair warning, some budtenders can be high-pressure. It’s distinctly possible that they could be part of a sales contest. “Prepare to fend off the ‘upsale’ from the helpful staff,” she says.

If all else fails, find a buddy with some dispensary experience to accompany you on the inaugural visit.

“Take someone with you that’s been before,” suggests Steve from Ann Arbor, MI, adding that he’s assisted several newcomers. “It just makes it less stressful to have someone along you can trust.

If there’s any parting advice for the cannabis customer to live by, as with anything else, it’s to be courteous and kind to the budtender. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it’s always appreciated. Not every customer experience is pleasant for these folks, so cut them some slack if they don’t automatically have all the answers. A friendly customer will always fare better than one acting rude. Who knows, a little charm could even work to your benefit. “Never be a jerk to your budtender,” Adam from Seattle says. “They can save you a lot of money if they want to.”

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