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What To Expect When You Visit a Dispensary for the First Time

Keep these tips in mind for a successful visit to the shop

Most Americans now have some legal access to cannabis, but if you’re completely new to the leafy society, dipping your toes into the dispensary pool this summer doesn’t have to be a big deal. “The shop” — as many regulars call it — is a place of wonders where you can discover everything from the right strain for you to your preferred methods. Fight the urge to be intimidated and check out this guide covering everything you need to have a great first visit to the dispensary.

It’s nothing like going to the liquor store

FYI, going to the store for green offerings is a bit more complicated than other intoxicant hubs like coffee shops and liquor stores, but once you're accustomed to the process, you’re golden. Even in states where you’ve been able to buy a joint legally for more than a decade, it’s still a very young industry, so strict compliance with all state laws and regulations is the norm. Simply put, don’t expect to run in, grab what you want, and check out. Leave yourself about 15 minutes for a quicker visit, closer to an hour if your state has fewer outlets, as higher demand sometimes causes lines to back up.

Be prepared for tight security

You might find security is a bit tighter than your average retail experience, so leave the kids and pets at home — only those 21 and over (18 with medical cannabis programs in some states) are even allowed inside. Expect to have your identification checked and even sometimes verified, so carry a state or federal issued photo ID and a backup no matter what state you shop in, kind of like getting carded to enter a bar. If you are buying as a medical patient, you should also have a state or county medical marijuana ID and/or a doctor’s recommendation handy.

Carry extra cash

It’s also worth knowing what kind of payment system the shop uses, since this process is also governed by complicated regulations. While many cannabis businesses are cash only, some will have an ATM on the premises to aid the unprepared. Occasionally, the shop will conduct the sale through a debit card system that treats the transaction as if you were at an ATM. To be blunt, heh, using a check, credit card, or digital (and convenient) methods of payment is often not allowed; cash is the most common tender accepted.

Don’t forget taxes

Tax laws can vary immensely from one state to the next. Depending on the locale, taxes can run between 8% and 27%, and shops have the option to either add tax to the sticker price or charge it at the end like a typical retail purchase. Being prepared means factoring this in when calculating your total budget for a visit.

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Let the budtender be your guide

One of the best parts of cannabis shopping is the instant community that you gain when you walk in the door. Budtenders are your personal guide to having an excellent experience, they curate and care for your cannabis needs above all things. Don’t be afraid to really chat them up, they often know the best products in the space — and probably the ones to avoid, too. Information is never out of reach, and everything from lab tests to product reviews is freely shared in the cannabis space, so grab it (and a beautiful preroll) with both hands. 

Get experimental

Lack of choice will almost never be an issue, and shops like Liberty have over 100 products to peruse, meaning that recommendation from a knowledgeable budtender could save you time and money. The selection is always there for exploring — so leave a small portion of your shopping list for trying new things, especially new to you products like topicals and beverages. The only thing newbies shouldn’t experiment with is their dosage: starting small is always recommended for the best first experiences, so pause after a few hits of a joint or a 5mg edible before having any more if you are still learning your tolerance.

Be nosy

The ability to sample is yet another thing that depends on the state you’re in. While some offer special ‘sniffing jars’ of each flower or unmedicated samples of edibles and treats, others are on full lockdown with all products packed and behind the counter. This is why asking a million questions is not only totally okay, it's to be expected.

Chat up anyone and everyone

Oftentimes you will find brand ambassadors from various cannabis companies in-store with swag and other promotional goodies to offer you. These representatives are experts on their product, and you can (and should) ask them anything you want before trying their brand. Sometimes you will walk away with just a sticker, other times you will have access to a special discount, but either way you’ll be educated on a new product, strain, or delivery method.

Do some good while you’re there

Your legacy as a consumer involves everything you buy and everywhere you shop, and those choices have weight. If you want the best products from the best people, going with a dispensary that has both great customer service and employee relations is a solid practice. Stocking award-winning brands from women, LGBTQIA+, and BIPOC owned businesses, as Liberty does in many of their shops, is a basic way to support diverse entrepreneurship in the cannabis industry from your very first visit.

Overall, don’t let the novelty of shopping for weed goodies take you out of context — this plant has been grown and consumed by humans for millennia — and it won’t be going away anytime soon. Familiarizing yourself with legal cannabis access is the key to maximum enjoyment.

The FDA has not approved marijuana to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. There are health risks associated with the consumption of marijuana. Marijuana has intoxicating effects that may cause impairment of concentration, coordination, and judgment and may be habit-forming and addictive. It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. Do not operate machinery under its influence. Keep out of reach of children. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use marijuana due to potential harm. Please consume responsibly.
AR, MI, MD: Medical marijuana is for use only by a qualifying patient.
AK, ME, MI, NV, OR, WA: For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.
MI: National Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222.