Everything You Need to Know Before You Visit a Weed Dispensary

Last month, Oregon became the fourth state -- in addition to Washington DC -- to legalize recreational marijuana, joining Washington, Colorado, and Alaska among the states where mellows need no longer be harshed by paranoia or the man. Anyone of age can stroll into a dispensary and score a bag, pre-rolled joints, and other euphoric treats. Twenty other states have medical marijuana dispensaries, too, for, um, glaucoma and stuff. It’s a great time in America.

This means that locals and pot tourists alike are going to be hitting up pot shops to get their fix, and, just like your first trip to a liquor store, it might be intimidating the first time. Between all the strands, gadgets, and people, it can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what to expect on your first trip to a dispensary. Surprise: it doesn’t involve sitting awkwardly making small talk on a stranger’s couch. That comes later.

Flickr/Dank Depot

Know what you’re looking for

Unlike alcohol, where most of the difference between brands and styles is taste and presentation, cannabis offers varying highs. Ranging from relaxation enough to make it through any bad movie to options that take the edge off a stressful evening and anxiety/nausea treatment to greater focus when being creative, cannabis strains vary along a predictable spectrum.

Most dispensaries have anywhere from 10-25+ options, allowing us to pick and choose which effects we’re looking for. If there’s a strain you’ve heard about but can’t find, ask -- it’s often easy to find a derivative option. Cannabis has been shown to help with pain, inflammation, spasms, stomach issues, headaches, and attention disorders, so ask for tailored solutions. Most bud tenders have experience in helping medical patients, tap into that knowledge so you’re not stuck with a boring high. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get super stoned, but don’t expect to do more than sit on your couch and drift off to sleep.

Ask around, go local, look up online

In the same way no two small businesses are the same, cannabis dispensaries vary widely in terms of decor, staffing, and product knowledge. Services like Leafly and Weedmaps are great ways to check out everything in the immediate area, but they’re not gospel. Many of the reviews are written by medical marijuana users, who have different needs than most newer cannabis fans. Try not to judge locations by their exterior security solutions -- often including blacked-out windows, bars, barbed-wire fencing, and bank-style security windows -- as most of those have been previously required by ever-changing regulations. Dispensaries are as safe or safer than any liquor store, bar, or convenience market.

Flickr/Steven Depolo

Bring cash... and bring enough

Thanks to cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I drug by the federal government, cannabis dispensary owners are not legally allowed to open bank accounts, making it tough for them to accept credit/debit without being shut down or heavily audited. While most shops have ATMs on site, they will almost always charge a fee, so remember to get cash back at the grocery store before starting your cannabis trek. While prices are still fluctuating in newly legal markets, $40-50 should be enough to buy three to four grams and/or some combination of pre-rolled joints. These “flights” are popular among first-time users, and bud tenders have no problem doling out weed by the gram.

Don’t be a sucker for numbers

There are two main cannabinoids that affect people when consumed: THC and CBD. The first is mainly responsible for feeling high, the second has pain-killing and relaxing properties. With regulatory testing still in its infancy, the percentages of THC/CBD on most of the strains isn’t as reliable as the ABV numbers found on alcohol, nor are higher percentages directly related to a greater high. The complexity of cannabis has yet to be fully explored, so use the numbers as a subjective, not purely objective, guide to higher potency strains. And use your head.

Perry Santanachote/Thrillist

Pay attention to serving recommendations on edibles

If you’re in a dispensary that sells edibles recreationally (or have a medical card), there’s a tendency for people to overindulge (chalk that up to American’s dual love of gluttony and not reading), which gives edibles a bad rap. While serving sizes for edibles are still being worked out in legal states, don’t assume that the bud tender behind the counter is trying to trick you by warning against certain strains or serving sizes. They want you to come back again and again, not write a whiny op-ed about how you had too much, got paranoid, and then took a nap. While “overdosing” on cannabis won’t kill you, it’s not the most fun experience. You wouldn’t pound a glass of wine when trying it for the first time, would you?

Bring a friend, and take your time

Considering cannabis has been illegal for decades and used mostly by people operating on the fringes of society, there’s not much mainstream exposure to the plant. There’s plenty of internet knowledge, but you’ll often have to choose between poorly funded studies, advocate blog posts, and stoners swapping stories -- not exactly a treasure trove of knowledge for a parent looking to get a little stoned while making dinner. Bring a friend to help ask questions about strains, other products, process, growers, farmers, and anything else that may take more than a few minutes. Sure, one impatient dude in the lobby may whine about having to wait an extra five minutes, but ignore him and get your inquiries answered. Like a pharmacy, bud tenders will stay with you until you’re done.

Assume nothing

While many dispensary employees will have a bit of a stoner look about them, don’t dismiss the bearded and tatted crowd as lazy potheads -- most of them are farmers and business owners who have braved years of quasi-legality to grow and sell cannabis to family and friends, and they’re there to help. While some newer dispensaries will have dress codes, don’t expect to see people in suits or white smocks behind every counter, though higher-end options that do have stricter presentation rules should pop up weekly once legalization takes full effect.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Look beyond just pot

By “pot” you probably mean flower (or bud or ganja or weed), which is cannabis in its default state. Dabs -- BHO, PHO, rosin and other extracts -- are cannabis concentrates extracted via solvents and way, way stronger than even the hash you might remember enjoying back in the day. They also taste fantastic and don’t have that typical pot smell, due to the extraction solvent stripping out most of the terpenes that give each strain a distinct aroma.

If you’re not ready for dabs, move along to the vape pens filled with CO2-extracted cannabis oil. These convenient options are about two to three times as strong as typical flower, but allow for much better controlled serving sizes -- most people essentially “sip" the vapor -- that you can take almost anywhere. CO2 options don’t have the taste of dabs or the complexity of flower, but occupy a spot right in the middle.

Edibles are cannabis-infused anything, usually available as sweet treats or as part of a liquid. While these may look like normal candies, many manufacturers add proprietary blends of spices and flavorings to overpower the plant material taste that’s tough to get rid of. For the love of everything you value, please read and adhere to serving size suggestions if you’re in a place where you can get them.

Have fun... isn’t that kind of the point?

Cannabis rules. It saves lives. It enhances activities. It makes people happy. Remember that and you’ll have a great time. After all, you’re basically in a candy store, but with pot. And sometimes actual candy.

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Tyler Hurst once wrote a story that produced eight death threats, three client threats, one public encounter, an online impersonator, 2,000 words of insults, and five+ months of reader reaction. Follow him to vitriol @tdhurst.