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Everything to Know Before Your First Recreational Marijuana Dispensary Visit

Insider Guides Cannabis
by Nickolaus Hines Feb 20, 2019

It’s easier than ever to buy legal marijuana in the US. Nearly 80 million people live in the 10 states that currently allow recreational cannabis, and a number of states like New York and New Jersey are considering legislation. That population, and the tens of millions of tourists who visit those states every year, are presented with a previously foreign concept: the recreational marijuana dispensary.

In towns like Denver where there are more dispensaries than Starbucks — these are the best recreational shops in the city if you’re looking to narrow down your options a bit — the choice of where to go can be a bit overwhelming. Even in towns with just one or two shops, however, going to a recreational dispensary for the first time can lead to a lot of questions.

“I think people’s biggest fear when they walk in is that it’s so overwhelming to see so many things laid out and so many options,” Nikki Furrer, author of A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis, tells Matador. Anyone who walks in without a plan could very easily leave with something they don’t know how to use, she says, adding, “I’ve gotten texts from friends who walk into a dispensary for the first time and don’t know what to do — these are people who are regular smokers but still overwhelmed.”

Furrer, who has run dispensaries as well as worked as a budtender and grower in Denver, says the people who go to shops aren’t just young people interested in trying something new. There are “more Baby Boomers now and older people coming into the dispensary,” she says. “That’s the fastest growing category (of people).”

No matter your age, first-timers will — and should — always have questions. Answering those questions is what budtenders are there for. But before you go to a recreational dispensary for the first time, there are a few basic things you should know.

Your first decision: smokable or edible?

“Just ask the basic question smoke it or eat it,” Furrer says. “A lot of non-smokers are not really thrilled about smoking, but it depends on the crowd.”

In the past, there were often concerns with the dosage in edibles. Too many headlines about tourists unknowingly eating an unreasonable amount of cannabis in recreational states only exacerbated the fears around them. Thankfully, regulators and producers have caught up. Edibles today generally have a limit of 100 milligrams of THC per package and 10 milligrams per dose. Labeling clearly lays out what a single serving is; for example, a snap-apart piece of a chocolate bar.

“Edibles are so much better in 2019 than five years ago,” Furrer says. “They taste better, they’re better dosed, they’re more accurate.”

You’ll see things you’ve never seen before. Ask questions.

Waxes, shatter, live resin, vapes, weed lube — there’s a lot of innovation in the cannabis space right now, and that goes for delivery methods as well as new strains. In Furrer’s experience, showing people how to operate a basic weed pen is one of the more common things she has to do. And while you might feel like an oblivious prude asking for instructions while you’re in the shop, you’ll feel even worse if you use the products you just bought completely wrong.

The biggest mistake is getting the wrong strain.

woman at home rolling marijuana

Photo: Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Once you’ve decided on a delivery method, you’ll need to decide the type. There are strains of cannabis with higher levels of THC compared to CBD and vice versa. The most basic thing you need to know is whether you’re looking for a sativa or indica strain. In general, sativas lead to a more active mind high while indicas lead to a body high that can glue you to the couch. Growers often have their own strains that you can’t find anywhere else, and trying them is a great way to see the style of a city if you’re visiting for the first time.

“I love going to new cities and trying strains they only have in that state,” Furrer says. “That’s my question for the budtender every time I go to a new city, ‘What’s the one strain that I can’t miss?’ And they love showing off the best of what they’ve got.”

Along with the right strain, you want to make sure you get the right dose as well. Start at 10 milligrams and go up from there.

Bring cash or be prepared to ask where the nearest ATM is.

Cannabis is illegal on the federal level no matter what the state law is, so banks are hesitant to accept money or do business with dispensaries. That means, in general, that cash is king for the recreational marijuana business.

Be sure to have enough cash on you before you go, although many dispensaries have ATMs onsite or nearby. Dispensary review sites like Weedmaps and Leafly often list whether a store has an ATM (or, in rare cases, takes cards). Those sites also have prices for stores, so you can get a general idea of how much to bring. Whatever you do, don’t be that person who spends an hour filling your hands with products and then acts surprised that the place won’t accept your Visa, Mastercard, or Amex.

On a similar note of things to bring, don’t forget your ID. Dispensaries are strict about who can be in and hang around the shop, and an ID is necessary no matter how old you look.

Know how much you’re looking for.

Edibles have the milligrams of THC listed on the packaging. It can be a little trickier for smokable flower unless you’re buying pre-wrapped joints.

In general, a gram is about the amount of weed in a joint. It’s the smallest unit you can purchase and is ideal for testing out a strain to see if you like it. Other common amounts include an eighth of an ounce (around 3.5 grams and called simple an eighth), a quarter of an ounce (around seven grams and called a quarter), a half ounce (around 14 grams), and an ounce (around 28 grams). Different states have different limits on how much one person can buy in a single day, and the budtenders will be sure to keep you in those limits.

Other terms you’ll see are “trim” and “shake.” Trim is the leaves trimmed away from the flower and is used for making edibles, and shake is flower that’s been broken apart or ground.

Know which materials you need before going.

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to cannabis consumption. Edibles are easy enough — “eat it” is about as simple as it gets when it comes to instructions — but there’s a world of other methods out there.

Enter the shop with a plan on your first visit. Want to smoke a joint? You’re going to need to buy a pre-rolled joint or have on hand a grinder, papers, and a lighter. What about vaping? You’ll need either a disposable one-time use vape or to buy the vape plus cartridges. Shops will generally sell everything you need to get started, but know what you’re getting into so you don’t have to go back out after buying what you thought was everything you need.

And remember, there’s no need to put up a cool front and act like an expert when you aren’t. Just like you would ask a bartender for a cocktail recommendation, ask your friendly neighborhood budtender for advice.

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