With 16 states having legalized cannabis for medical use and 17 more states with pending legislation, cannabis dispensaries appear to be gaining acceptance across the country. Even so, many medical marijuana users don’t know what to expect the first time they set foot in a legitimate cannabis dispensary. Fear of the unknown and misguided beliefs has kept many patients sourcing their cannabis through illegal dealers. Hopefully I can shine a light on cannabis dispensaries and help bring some skeptics into the fold.
First time visitors must become members of the collective. This will require filling out a few forms and reviewing the collective’s policy. Read the policy carefully and follow it. You will be asked to show your current state issued identification and your doctors recommendation for the use of cannabis. Often a dispensary employee will contact the doctors office who issued the recommendation to confirm its authenticity. While most of the forms are boilerplate, I have seen a few over the years with some laughable questions. For example, one dispensary’s application form asked “Are you a law enforcement officer?” For a supposedly legitimate dispensary, what a guilty sounding question to ask.
Security and Metal Detectors
Most cannabis dispensaries have a security desk or metal detector as you enter the building. Be polite and cooperative with the security personnel. They are not trying to be intrusive and are there for your safety and that of the employees. Due to the high street value and substantial black market for cannabis, dispensaries are at a higher risk of robbery than most businesses. You will likely be asked to remove metal objects from your pockets to be sure you are not carrying a weapon. As with airport security, the more prepared you are for the metal detector, the quicker and easier it is for everyone. Luckily you won’t be asked to remove your belt and shoes.
Cell Phones and Cameras
Some dispensaries will ask you to leave your cell phone at the security desk, others will allow you to bring it inside as long as it is kept in your pocket. I understand that you may suddenly feel naked and helpless without your phone, but here is the logic behind the policy:
- Use of cell phones is distracting and obnoxious for other patients. While this may be a casual environment for you, those who are sick or first time visitors may find visiting a cannabis dispensary to be a stressful experience. Treat your local dispensary as you would any other doctor’s office or pharmacy.
- Phones create a security risk as would-be thieves can use them to coordinate their nefarious raids or use the cameras to case the dispensary’s security.
- Camera phones pose a privacy concern to dispensary members who expect their identity and medical conditions to be kept anonymous.
Expect Friendly Employees
Luckily most patients have a choice between multiple cannabis dispensaries. Reputable dispensaries do their best to create a welcoming, friendly and comfortable environment for their members. Often new members feel a bit overwhelmed or stressed on their first visit. Feel free to ask questions or for a short orientation. If the place feels sketchy, dangerous, or uncomfortable, feel free to leave. Shop around if you don’t have a good experience at the first dispensary you visit. You can use whichever dispensary you like, or become a member of multiple dispensaries at the same time. Just like any other business, you have a choice where you shop for your medical cannabis.
Purchasing Your Medical Marijuana
Once through security you will have the opportunity to view the available cannabis products. Every dispensary is set up a little differently, so feel free to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to let them know that it is your first time.
Most dispensaries have samples on display that represent the products for sale. Usually you are allowed to closely examine and smell the buds, but most dispensaries ask that you do not touch the sample. You will likely find a wide selection of cannabis edibles like cookies and brownies; concentrates like hash and kief; as well as cannabis tinctures. You have options on how to treat your symptoms, and there are pros and cons to the methods of taking cannabis.
Expect multiple strains and grades of cannabis buds. They may be sold by the gram, 3.5 grams (eighth ounce), and often quarter ounce, half ounce, and full ounce. Prices will vary from dispensary to dispensary depending on the perceived quality of the cannabis. Often you will find that cannabis grown indoors hydroponically and under grow lights is a bit more expensive. There is a common belief by many that indoor marijuana makes better and more potent medicine. I personally do not agree with this assertion, but feel free to spend more if you like. When it comes to Cannabis, more expensive does not necessarily mean better. In California, the typical eighth ounce ranges from about $25 to $60.
California dispensaries are required to charge sales tax. For whatever reason, cannabis is considered closer to a taxable food supplement than a nontaxable medication. Some dispensaries include sales tax in advertised prices, others will charge sales tax in addition to the price. If the prices are not marked, ask the sales person for clarification.
Sativa or Indica
In addition to the name of the strain and price you may also find a reference to the strains landrace heritage. In most cases this has been simplified to indica, sativa, or hybrids which are cross breeds of indica and sativa. These are not terribly helpful ways to describe the medicinal qualities of a cannabis strain. Generally speaking, indica strains tend to be associated with a sleepy body high and are better for evening use and as sleep aids. Sativa dominant strains are often considered more energetic and creative and better for use throughout the day. This is a vast oversimplification as most strains these days are, in fact, hybrids with wide ranging cannabinoid contents. Even so, it is not uncommon for dispensary employees to ask if you prefer indica or sativa strains when you ask for help picking out your medicine.
Many reputable dispensaries are now sending out samples of their cannabis for laboratory analysis. Not only can the lab results show the presence of dangerous fungus, pesticides, and plant growth regulators, they can also show a detailed breakdown of the levels of cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBN. While the science behind treating medical conditions with specific cannabinoids is underfunded and still in its infancy, many patients find that certain cannabinoid ratios help their conditions more than others. If the dispensary tests their cannabis, they will have the cannabinoid levels available.
Not every person will necessarily respond to the various cannabinoids in the same manner. As with anything new, start small. Purchase a small amount at first and try only a small dose. Take it easy until you figure out what works best for your symptoms. Many medical cannabis users keep journals to track what has worked best in the past. When you find a strain that works great, consider buying a larger quantity if your budget permits. Cannabis has a long shelf life, and you never know when a dispensary will run out of your favorite medicine.
For each user of medical cannabis, finding the right medicine for their symptoms is a journey. It requires responsible experimentation, trial and sometimes error. While cannabis dispensaries are not for everyone, they can be a wonderful resource offering selection, guidance, and medicine—free of harmful substances. They offer all this in a safe and friendly environment. Much like the small town pharmacies of yesteryear.
What to Expect at Cannabis Dispensaries,