Cannabis

How To Be Every Budtender’s Favorite Customer

"The more fluent you are in the language of dispensaries, the more likely you are to get great service and leave with something that delivers the effects you seek."

dispensary ettiquite
Emily Carpenter/Thrillist

Every day for the past six years, hundreds of people walk into a legal cannabis dispensary for the first time. Maybe one opens up down the block, or you drive across town, even over to a neighboring state to see it for yourself. It’s one of the few places you can go right now, since they’ve been deemed essential businesses. Dispensaries have adapted to the COVID-19 retail era with increased delivery services, curbside pick-up, and limits on capacity to maintain safe distances, with many stores are doing more business than usual as people stock up to stay home. The one thing that all first-time customers have in common, regardless of the extent one has enjoyed cannabis prior to this moment, is a shared sense of unfamiliarity. This isn’t like walking into a liquor store at 21, but it also won’t be anything like exchanging $20 for a ziplock on your former dealer’s couch. It’s a completely new kind of experience, and despite how recent its debut, one that has already developed its own standard customs and etiquette. 

So why do these unspoken codes of conduct matter to you? Because the more fluent you are in the language of dispensaries and the budtenders that run them, the more likely you are to get great service and walk out of there with something that delivers the effects you seek. Here is the ultimate guide to shopping at a dispensary.

Before You Arrive 

In anticipation of stopping by the dispensary, there are preparations to be made both literally and figuratively. You absolutely need to grab your state-issued ID (driver’s license is best) or passport, and you need to have cash on hand. Most dispensaries will have an ATM on-site, but you can expect a stiff additional withdrawal fee. Some shops have successfully established a card reader and can swipe a debit card for payment, but those services are always intermittent as providers like Square shut down an account as soon as they realize it’s a cannabis dispensary. Just bring cash.

The other part of the preparations is your mindset. You don’t need to educate yourself in cannabis science in order to shop for weed, but coming in with a clear idea or ideas of what you’re looking for will make a huge difference. Check in with yourself and how you’d like to feel. Do you want to feel happy? Do you want clear-headed focus? Relief for a specific symptom? Something to accompany a particular activity? These kinds of parameters will help you and your budtender navigate the shelves successfully.

Checking In

Time to bust out that ID. And you have to do that every single time, even regulars. It’s good to keep in mind that state regulations like this one give a clunky flow to every process. 
 
After all, you’re not just picking out a couple t-shirts at H&M -- you’re legally buying something that is federally illegal. Be prepared to wait a few minutes as budtenders input information into unintuitive software required by state law and print compliant receipts. Your friendly patience may just result in an extra discount as checkout or a heavier weight on your flower. You never know.

The Main Attraction

Most dispensaries aren’t allowed to have products on the sales floor, available for grab and go. In almost all cases, you’ll have a dedicated budtender serving you who will guide you through the section of the store’s offerings and pull out flower samples for you to smell. This is when you share what effects you’re looking for or what type of products you seek. It’s also when you can embrace your curiosity. While budtenders are not licensed medical professionals, they do know these products. They’re the only ones who’ve probably sampled every product in that store, and they listen to testimonials all day, every day. So while budtenders aren’t doctors, they are the most equipped to answer any questions about what you see on the shelves. Don’t underestimate their insight. Budtenders aren’t therapists or your personal drug dealer either. Don’t ask where to smoke weed nearby, or how best to fly this purchase home. You could cost them their job, and there’s the internet for those questions.

If you happen to be someone seeking strong effects, don’t get distracted by THC percentages. Without proper storage, 30% THC flower harvested over six months ago will be a weaker smoke than freshly cured and properly maintained flower that happened to test at 18%. The reality is that a single plant contains buds with varying amounts of THC across each branch, and only a handful of random buds determine test results for a whole batch of product. Current testing can somewhat ensure safe product, but it does not accurately assess potency. It’s more effective to ask budtenders about the cultivators behind each strain, and if you can smell before you buy, a rich, complex fragrance is a fundamental indicator of good weed. If you still just want the strongest products on the menu… Just ask the budtenders what they’ve been smoking over the past month.

When You Leave

Now that you’ve got your goodies, resist the urge to light up any combustibles near the shop. In every state that has legalized cannabis so far, it still isn’t legal to consume in public. And for all these shops operating under strict regulation, it’s especially un-chill to smoke the stuff you just bought directly out front.

Actually consuming your legal weed is the one element to this scene that hasn’t changed one bit. It’s time to think like your adolescent self and brainstorm an appropriately private or remote venue: an available garage, covered patio, viewpoint off the beaten path... you know what to do from here.

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Lauren Yoshiko is as close to a cannabis culture critic as the hazy concept allows. She opened a dispensary, managed a dispensary, and managed a farm in Southern Oregon for two years, all the while reporting on every facet of the industry for various publications. Follow her on Instagram at @laurenyoshiko for aesthetically-pleasing smoking tables, mild cat content, and nail art.