What To Expect In A Dispensary

Written by BlackbirdGo July 6, 2018
The Industry

You live in a state where cannabis is legal. After a lot of hemming and hawing, you’ve decided that you want to try legal cannabis from a dispensary. What comes next?

Whether it’s your first time using cannabis ever or it’s just been a while, you may be wondering what to expect when you walk into a dispensary. After all, it’s certainly going to be a different experience than buying on the illicit market, which usually involves getting an eighth in a Ziplock bag from an acquaintance in your college dorm or behind a bar in your city.

Dispensaries are essentially retail stores for cannabis. If you’re wondering what to expect from your first dispensary visit, read on to learn the ins and outs of buying legal cannabis!

It’s Nothing Like A Drug Deal

People who have bought cannabis on the black market may have experienced dicey situations or quick, low-key handoffs with money crumpled in the palm of the hand. Those types of transactions feel like a stereotypical drug deal - you get in and get out as quickly as possible without attracting too much attention.

Buying cannabis on the legal market is nothing like this. In fact, many dispensaries feel like a designer boutique or an Apple store more than just a place to buy cannabis. They’re clean, well-lit facilities that are staffed by knowledgeable professionals, often with beautiful displays and polished countertops. Take a quick scan of a dispensary and you’ll notice carefully arranged wracks of edibles and prerolls, samples of cannabis flower spread out for your viewing pleasure, and a cash register to complete your transaction.

Every dispensary offers its own take on the cannabis market. Generally speaking, you’ll have access to a variety of cannabis strains, usually with varying price points to accommodate every customer. You’ll also be able to buy different types of concentrates, edibles, vape pens/cartridges, and prerolls. You’ll pay taxes on your purchase, and depending on which legal state you’re in, those taxes may go towards public education,youth programs, drug rehabilitation programs, research, or other social programs.

So What Actually Happens When You Walk Into A Dispensary?

When you enter a dispensary, you’ll be greeted by someone at the front desk. This check-in process helps regulate how many people are browsing cannabis products at any given time. It also ensures that all recreational customers are over 21 years of age, and that all medical patients have the proper documentation. The receptionist will ask to see your ID if you’re a recreational customer, and your doctor’s recommendation or cannabis card if you’re there as a medical patient. You may need to fill out some paperwork if you’re a medical patient, though this process will vary depending on the requirements in your state. If there’s a wait, you’ll be asked to take a seat for a few moments until they’re ready for you in the main room of the dispensary.

Once your name is called, you’re ready to enter the actual dispensary and an employee will show you to the main room. Inside, you’ll see a variety of different cannabis strains and products on display. Though it may look like an endless series of display cases, most dispensaries have a logical layout. You’ll probably get a brief tour or run down of what that dispensary offers on your first visit so that you can easily find what you need when you return in the future.

The person behind the counter is called a budtender. Think of them as part pharmacist, part barista. Let them know that it’s your first time and they should walk you through the products they have as well as the organizational structure of that particular dispensary. If they forget to explain things to you or if you have lingering questions, ask! Budtenders are there to help you, so don’t feel rushed or intimidated if there’s anything you’re unsure about. They can answer questions and make recommendations based on your needs or your desired experience. Say, for example, that you’ve been having a difficult time sleeping - your budtender probably has a strain for that. If you’re looking for a peppy sativa to take on your next camping trip that will make you feel happy and energetic, your budtender can probably recommend something that they’ve had similar experiences with. Always feel free to ask questions and communicate clearly what you like or don’t like so that your budtender can make the best recommendation, and don’t feel obligated to go with a strain or product they recommend if it doesn’t seem like something you’d enjoy. Try taking notes at home when you try different cannabis strains/products so you can track your experiences and find something that consistently works for you.

If you’re new to smoking/consuming legal cannabis, it’s best to take things low and slow. Opt for cannabis strains with more moderate THC levels, as high-THC strains may be a bit intense for novices. You may also want to look at some strains that balance THC and CBD content. If you’re buying edibles, start with a low dose and wait at least 1-2 hours before consuming any more of your edible, since the effects take a long time to set in. Ask your budtender about how to measure out your doses and let them know if you’re new to legal cannabis so that they can help you find the best products that will help you have a fun, safe time.

Most dispensaries do not let you physically handle any loose cannabis until you buy it. These rules are put in place to protect the quality and cleanliness of the cannabis, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still check things out. Some shops have special clear-plastic display boxes containing a few grams of each cannabis strain with a magnifying glass and/or smell holes built in. Take a look at the bud structures and the glittering trichomes with the magnifier, then smell the cannabis through the small holes in the top of the box (if present). If they don’t have one of those display boxes, your budtender may hold a container up for you to peak inside and smell some of the cannabis. No matter which option your dispensary offers, it’s always good to let your senses guide you. Smelling and examining cannabis gives you some good insight into the quality of that batch as well as the effects you can anticipate. Other cannabis products like edibles and prerolls are individually wrapped and cannot be opened by you or your budtender until you’ve completed your transaction.

Once you’ve decided on what to purchase, your budtender will take you over to the cash register. Many dispensaries are still strictly cash-based because cannabis is illegal at the federal level, which complicates banking arrangements for businesses. If that is the case, you’ll need to either bring cash or use the ATM if they have one at the dispensary. However, some dispensaries have found loopholes that allow customers to use credit and debit cards to purchase cannabis. Whichever options your dispensary offers, your budtender will put your cannabis products into a childproof bag and hand you your receipt once you’ve completed your transaction. You won’t be able to consume cannabis on the premises, and it’s still illegal to consume cannabis in public or while driving, so make sure you don’t open the childproof bag until you’re safely back home.

Etiquette Is Important

It’s always important to exercise proper dispensary etiquette whenever you’re buying cannabis. Your budtender will help you find cannabis strains or products that best meet your needs, but sometimes they may run out of what you had hoped to purchase. Other times, you may need to wait your turn when the dispensary is busy. These are simply a part of any retail experience, so it’s unfair to take out your aggravation on your budtender. If they’re out of a specific strain or product, just ask your budtender if they can recommend something similar that is available. And if you want to skip the lines at your local dispensary, you can have Blackbird deliver your cannabis right to your door!

It’s also important to be observant of any rules that your dispensary has posted or otherwise made known. For example, many dispensaries ask that you refrain from using your smartphone while viewing cannabis in the main room. Others may ask to check your bag. Be polite and courteous, as these rules are in place for everyone’s safety.

Lastly, like many other service industry professionals, budtenders also depend on tips. You’re never obligated to leave a tip, but if you had a good experience it’s generally considered proper etiquette to tip your budtender. This is particularly true if they’ve been polite and helped you out by making recommendations or answering any questions you might have had. Let your budtender know you appreciate their help by leaving a generous tip, and always treat them with courtesy and respect.

We, of course, say this keeping in mind the caveat of patients purchasing cannabis for medicine. There's no health insurance policy to help ease the cost of medical marijuana, and we know the cost can be steep. While everyone loves to be recognized for their work, if tipping means additional financial strain for you, please know that it is by no means expected.