by Caroline Platzman
So, your stoner friend finally convinced you? Or it was your other friend who made the recommendation, the one who swears by CBD oil for their joint pain? Maybe your doctor prescribed you cannabis? Or maybe the idea came to you in a dream? Whatever the reason, so many people are embracing the uses of both medicinal and recreational cannabis as a means of healing, coping, relaxing, and just plain indulging.
Dispensaries, otherwise known as stores where the medicine is prepared and provided, are the safest and most direct way to access legal cannabis. In Colorado alone, there are more dispensaries than there are Starbucks and McDonald’s combined (Marijuana Webmasters 2019), meaning the cannabis industry is dominating, and in an embracive, demanding market.
However, with all of the different dispensaries, strains and seemingly out there ways to ingest the much loved plant, entering the cannabis industry as a consumer can feel overwhelming at first. If you are someone who is ready to visit a dispensary and try cannabis but don’t really know where to start, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
What will I need?
In order to enter a recreational dispensary beyond the waiting area, you will need a photo ID and to be at least 21 years old in states that allow the sale of recreational marijuana. Entering without an ID is non-negotiable, so don’t forget it!
If you are a medical patient, you will need your up-to-date patient ID card, as well as your photo ID. Typically, most states that allow the sale of medicinal marijuana have begun serving patients at the minimum age of 18 for a variety of ailments. Note that depending on the state you live in, you may need an appointment if you are visiting a certain dispensary for the first time.
Please don’t be the dingus who forgets their wallet before walking into the dispensary. While some diviner form of dispensary ApplePay-like technology is sure to be the norm sometime in the near future, as of now cash is the fastest and most reliable form of payment because it is guaranteed to be accepted at any dispensary. Many dispensaries do accept credit cards or have an ATM available, but oftentimes the ATM fee will be high, or the ATM will even run out of cash because it is used so much.
When visiting a dispensary for the first time, consider your budget. Prices vary depending on your area, and many states apply a heavy tax to cannabis purchases. You do not need to break the bank, but don’t expect to pay what you (allegedly) pay on the streets for cannabis in a dispensary.
What will it be like in there?
When you enter a dispensary, there will likely be a small entrance area where staff check IDs and paperwork before you can enter the actual store. The scent of fresh cannabis will linger in the air as you wait in line, if there is one, to be let in. Some dispensaries look like a plain doctor’s office, with spacious waiting areas full of chairs and magazines. Others may resemble an Apple store; sleek and shiny, boasting displays of high-definition portraits of various strains of cannabis, or personalized merch, or band posters all over their walls. Most are guarded by security and surveillance cameras. The feel of each dispensary can vary greatly, but typically consist of a relaxed atmosphere in which you can have easygoing, informative interactions with the professionals who are there to help you.
What products will I find?
If you think there is only one way to get high, think again. Depending on the dispensary you visit, you can find anything from the simple dried plant, known in the dispensary as cannabis flower, to oils, tinctures, drinks, gummies, candy bars, and even lotions made with cannabis. The average dispensary will carry at minimum a few to a variety of strains of cannabis to look at and choose from – the most popular strains sold being Blue Dream, Sour Diesel, and Girl Scout Cookies, according to Leafly (2020). Products are usually behind the counter on shelves or protected by glass, but are easily available to be seen, touched, and smelled by customers. Dispensary staff will often open jars of flower to show off their sweet, earthy scents, crystallized and sticky textures, intriguing colors and other enticing properties.
Once you’ve found your cannabis product of choice, you will likely need something to use it with. Luckily, most dispensaries carry a selection of basic dry herb pipes, lighters and matches, rolling papers and similar smoking products, vaporizers and e-cigarettes, and even pre-filled oil cartridges or pre-rolled joints (super convenient! Think on-the-go). Dispensaries may also carry an array of cannabis accessories, including grinders, storage jars, pipe cleaners, concentrate rigs and tools, and even more novelty items like t-shirts and literature. All of the products you will find in a dispensary exist to serve a different purpose, and once you learn a little bit more about them, your dispensary experience will be less anxiety-inducing, and way more fun.
Who can help me find what I need?
The person behind the counter at a dispensary is known as a budtender. Budtenders can be helpful resources when it comes to searching for the right cannabis product for you – they are often quite knowledgeable of the strains they are selling and are able to recommend which can help you best achieve the results you are looking for. For instance, they may recommend a strain that is good for pain relief, or another that is effectively used for creative stimulation, depending on what the customer is looking for. Each strain has unique properties and potencies that budtenders take into account in order to make recommendations.
In some dispensaries, if you are a medical patient, you may hear the people behind the counter referred to as a “patient advocate” or “patient consultant” instead of a budtender. Meg Costa, a Patient Consultant for a medical dispensary in Philadelphia, helps to clarify the difference, stating, “patient advocates tend to provide more medical information about cannabis and are there to guide patients towards products that suit their medical needs. As a patient consultant myself, I usually help patients understand the terpene profiles of different strains as well as the cannabinoid content. If they tell me they’re struggling with a specific symptom, I can usually find a strain that I know will help treat their symptoms based on what I was taught while in training.”
Meg states that in her experience, patient advocates or consultants are typically employed by medicinal dispensaries, while budtenders are more common in recreational dispensaries. The term “budtender” may be more common in recreational dispensaries on the west coast as opposed to say, a medicinal dispensary on the east. However, in some dispensaries, the terms may even be interchangeable. Some dispensaries may employ both, to serve both medical and recreational consumers.
Unfortunately, however, some budtenders or patient advocates might not be as well versed as others, so do some research first and foremost and be sure to ask the right questions so your time isn’t wasted. Dispensary staff can be helpful guides but they are not always as trained as beginners would need them to be. Like any job, the person behind the counter probably won’t admit to you it’s their first day in cannabis too.
So, this is why it is imperative that you do some of your own research beforehand to know what to ask for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Some questions to consider asking your budtender or patient advocate might include:
- What is your experience in the cannabis industry?
- What are your personal experiences with the product?
- How was this product extracted?
- How is the cannabis grown?
- What sales are going on right now?
- What’s the best value in the shop right now?
- What’s the difference between indica, sativa, and hybrid?
- What will put me to sleep? What will energize me?
- What is best for the daytime? Nighttime?
- What is the difference between THC and CBD? What does this mean for effects?
- What are the best products for pain relief, for relaxation, for getting straight up baked, etc.?
If you are new to cannabis and once you’ve done your research, I would recommend speaking with a budtender or patient advocate at your local dispensary to find out what strains and form of consumption is best for you; because with the burgeoning market of cannabis consumption, there are tons of ways to utilize cannabis. From regular old smoking to other forms of consumption like vaping, dabbing, and eating, getting started with cannabis can seem like an intimidating ordeal, but it can be fun to try out different methods and find out what works for you.
With any new medicine, it is always smart to start at a low dose to get a grasp on how cannabis affects you, and work your way up over time. Before entering a dispensary, take a moment to think about the needs you aim to meet by using cannabis. Be patient and open-minded. And don’t fret – although the containers and baggies you receive from your local dispensary may make you feel like an idiot for not being able to open them at first (hint: squeeze), you will get the hang of it soon.
Check out these other Calm, Cool, & Collected resources to assist you in your research:
- Welcoming Weed: Why Cannabis is Important
- Cannabis Terms: A Glossary of Language and Lingo
- Don’t Want to Smoke Cannabis? Discover New Ways to Use
- The Three Types of Cannabis Strains: Indica, Sativa & Hybrid
- Is Cannabis Safe to Use?
- CBD: What You Need to Know About the Cannabinoid
- 6 Tips on Buying CBD Products
What is your advice to someone visiting a dispensary for the first time? Leave a comment below!
About Caroline Platzman
Caroline Platzman is a Behavioral Health Counselor working with adults diagnosed with schizophrenia. She is passionate about mental health, journalism, nonprofit advocacy, and public relations. Caroline is also a dedicated guitarist and artist in her free time.
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