Anyone who has ever been in a big box retail store knows the feeling — sometimes too much selection, can be…too much. It may feel that way the first time you visit a cannabis dispensary, particularly for a first-time customer or patient, but that’s no reason to steer clear. Just know what your goals are, do a little research, bring some cash, and last but not least — have fun.
Cannabis dispensary customers find themselves faced with a canna-cornucopia of strains, edibles, tinctures, topical solutions and more, stretching from wall to wall — and oftentimes with a language all their own.
The good news is, most dispensaries are fun and easy to navigate, especially once you know what to look for.
Here are six things to keep in mind now that you’ve made up your mind to go to a dispensary:
1. Cash is king
While the very existence of legal dispensaries and the sheer variety of products available can seem almost like science fiction to some old-school cannabis fans, dispensary transactions bring to mind a bygone era when cash ruled everything around us.
Because cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, banks are not allowed to do business with cannabis companies. And while in some jurisdictions you can pay by debit card, before any visit to a dispensary you should make sure to have cash on hand, even if the dispensary has an ATM on the premises.
The fact that dispensaries are cash-only, and the fact that they stock large amounts of cannabis products on-site, are one of the main reasons you can expect heavy security on site. This includes cameras, security guards, and the like. As long as you aren’t looking to stick up the place, there’s no reason to be intimidated by this.
Also, if you are a medical marijuana patient, make sure to bring your license with you. It can often qualify you for additional deals, discounts, and tax breaks.
2. Know what you’re coming for
Not every cannabis customer is the same, and not every use of cannabis has the same purpose or goals. A medical cannabis patient who is looking to treat chronic pain has a much different goal than a recreational customer who is looking to purchase weed for a three-day weekend of beer and barbecue with out-of-town guests.
Once you know what goal you have for your cannabis use, you can get a better idea of which products to look for and which aren’t for you. Perhaps most importantly, this will help you better direct the dispensary staff (the “budtenders”) about what it is you’re looking for and how they can help you.
You may also have some past experiences with cannabis that you want to steer clear of, such as marijuana-induced paranoia or anxiety. If so, keep this in mind when you visit. You know your body better than the budtender, and sharing your experiences with staff can help you find the right products.
3. This is not a drug deal. Act accordingly.
It may take some getting used to, especially for those of us who grew up back when cannabis was a strictly controlled substance, but cannabis retail stores are legitimate businesses just like any other — albeit ones that deal only in cash.
Lesley Nickus, senior content manager at Weedmaps, the online resource for finding cannabis dispensaries, doctors, and more, said dispensary customers should treat it just like any other business.
“On behalf of the budtenders, I’d say don’t go in there with the stink of stigma…don’t go in there with preconceived notions. Approach it like any other retail transaction,” Nickus said in an interview with The Cannigma.
Nickus said that when speaking to new dispensary customers the biggest concern she hears is: “What do I do? What will I encounter?”
“I think a lot of people still have it in their mind what the cannabis transaction experience is like and they don’t realize it’s like any other other retail experience in modern times but the key difference is you are going to encounter a security guard.”
4. Listen to your budtender
Budtenders tend to know cannabis better than the average person — after all, that is their job.
They work very closely with cannabis brands and producers and know the ins and outs of the products they sell and how they can help customers. Perhaps most importantly, they know about the minutiae of marijuana that is little known even among experienced cannabis fans. This includes such things as terpene profiles, and an intimate knowledge of the specific compounds in cannabis strains and products, which can provide a variety of health benefits
According to Nickus, the value of a budtender’s recommendation can depend on the dispensary and how well it trains its staff. While at the end of the day they are retail sales people, “they really do want to make the right sale and have repeat clientele and the best way is to have a two-way conversation with you about what you’re looking for.”
She added that with hundreds of items on the shelves, shopping at a dispensary can be overwhelming for some customers, and a budtender can help you tune out the background noise and home in on the products that can work best for what the customer is looking for.
5. Top-shelf products aren’t always the best
We’ve all (probably) been to a liquor store and seen the walls of wine and spirits arranged from the elite, high-dollar brands up top to the plastic, handle bottles on the bottom row. But whatever the price tag says, with a little guidance you can usually find that a great $15 dollar bottle of wine is just as satisfying as the small batch luxury wine that costs three or four times as much.
It’s a somewhat similar situation in dispensaries. The top-shelf, high-THC flower produced by the industry’s top brands is typically more expensive and more sought-after by dispensary customers, but that doesn’t mean it will be better for you.
High THC can be important for recreational customers or people using it for specific purposes, but for other customers, the terpene profile or THC vs CBD breakdown may be much more important. And if your tolerance isn’t that high and you’re just looking for a mellow strain to unwind with at the end of the day, you may find that a more modestly priced strain is more than enough for your purposes. The bottom line? Don’t look just at the THC percentage or the price tag — know your body and your needs, and run it by your budtender.
6. Do some research about where to go
Oftentimes, proximity is the main reason a customer will visit a specific dispensary, but it shouldn’t be the only factor.
When choosing a dispensary, take some time to look at online reviews and speak to people who may have experience visiting dispensaries in your area. Not every dispensary will have as broad a selection, so if you’re looking for a specific product and it’s not on sight, this can be something of a setback, especially if you’re trying to stay home and be socially distanced lately.
If the dispensary has a website, see if you can access their menu to see what they keep in stock. You can also see if they have any special deals on offer that day. And if you can’t get the information online, you can always call the store to check if a product you’re interested in is available before leaving the house.
But as important as research is, according to Nickus, eventually you just need to go and see for yourself.
“At the end of the day, it’s about just going into that dispensary and getting the vibe of the place.”