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What you need to know before entering a cannabis dispensary

One of the trends that I find most interesting right now in the cannabis space is that while there is an established core consumer group - often negatively referred to as “stoners” - the reality is that recreational as well as medical consumption has gone mainstream. Even if you might have tried it years ago at a college party, today’s industry is vastly different. Here are some of the things new cannabis consumers should be aware of.

The first thing to mention is that there are two major different reasons that cannabis is consumed today in the United States and Canada. The first is for medical purposes and includes CBD products as well as CBD - THC Blends and full THC products. At this point, that market has been pretty well established though people and government regulators are still working through exactly where the lines should be drawn. 

The second - and perhaps more sensational - is so called recreational use. From my perspective, recreational use should be considered no different than how people might enjoy a bottle of wine, a glass of whiskey, or a pint of beer. It’s all about enjoyment and while these substances have the potential for abuse, in moderation consumption can be relatively safe and enjoyable. 

Unfortunately, the cannabis industry suffers from a stigma despite the fact that even as far back as 2017, nearly half of the people who responded to a Gallup pollsaid they have tried cannabis. Today, with nearly all the states allowing at least some consumption of cannabis (only Nebraska and Idaho do not allow even limited medical use), that number is only going to increase.

However, due to that stigma, going into a dispensary or asking for advice when purchasing products to consume cannabis can still be challenging for new consumers. I’ve personally visited dispensaries and consumed products containing THC and here’s what I wish every casual consumer could understand before they start shopping.


Cannabis Consumption Can Match Your Lifestyle

Just like with various forms of alcohol, cannabis can be consumed as a low-quality experience by stuffing rolled cannabis in your wallet and sneaking it into a concert or you can have a luxury experience. Frankly there is nothing wrong with either end of the spectrum and just as I enjoy canned beer on a pontoon boat or crystal wine glass, I can enjoy gummies, or a fancy glass MJ Arsenal dab rig.

The important thing to realize as a new consumer is that cannabis today isn’t illicit and you should be able to enjoy it in a relaxed and comfortable manner. Not only will this be more relaxing but much of that anxiety you may have worried about in the past with “getting caught” no longer exists today.


Modern Retail Cannabis Safe And Regulated

One of the first things that people began to complain about when recreational cannabis became legal here in California is that their dealer was cheaper. That might be true, but with your “dealer” no matter how nice of a guy he is, there’s no way to guarantee quality, potency, or health concerns. Plus, just one brush with the law and that “cost argument” will go out the window real fast if you are forced to miss work, hire a lawyer, or explain to your wife what happened.

While each state regulates things differently, the goal is to ensure that the product you have access was produced in a safe manner consistent with other products that you enjoy. Likewise, by establishing zoning regulations, municipalities can ensure that public safety is maintained and you don’t have dispensaries popping up across from schools or churches.


Regulations Are Different From State To State

Right now, while there is no federal policy that regulates the cannabis industry, each state (and often cities or counties) maintain their own policies and procedures. For instance when I visited a dispensary in Nevada I had to be escorted around by a sales associate but in California you can enter freely and some dispensaries will even deliver or offer curbside pickup.


Expect To Use Cash

Cannabis consumption is legal in most states, however it is not legal federally. This means that any commerce that goes across the border of one state to the other … even if both states allow recreational cannabis, is considered interstate commerce. This means that any transactions may be technically considered illegal. While the federal government has, so far, avoided any significant enforcement efforts banks are generally pretty conservative when it comes to the law.

As a result, while some credit card processors and banks may accept a dispensary as a client, most will not. However, this is still a cash business and you should expect to pay your budtender with cash (though some may accept crypto currency too). This is beginning to change though. 

A workaround though is that many dispensaries will have an ATM machine though you should expect a fairly significant fee for use, just as you would find at a bar or convenience store.


Most Budtenders Are Very Passionate And Very Helpful

The first time you enter a dispensary, you will be overwhelmed. The days of simple dime bags is over. Today, cannabis products come in a veritable rainbow of forms and flavors ranging from gummies, cookies, brownies, balms, and tinctures. However, they are still also available in the traditional bud form. This is when you realize just how far the industry has come.

Decades ago you might just simply “want to smoke some bud”. Today though, a typical dispensary will have dozens of different strains. That’s for a different article to explore. However, I have always found that budtenders working in dispensaries are very similar to what you’d find in brew pubs or wineries. They are not just “retail workers” but are in fact incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their craft. 

If you are confused or overwhelmed, ask for help and be prepared to tell them what effects you are looking for or what symptoms you are looking for help with. 


Portion Control and Dosage Is Critical

Once you have settled on what product you are looking to try, make sure to ask your budtender for dosage advice. Most packaged goods will have a clearly marked amount of THC contained in the product. Some such as gummies or cookies may even list how much THC is in an individual piece. 

Most casual consumers probably had their first cannabis experience smoking rolled cannabis passed around with friends at a party. There was no thought of potency and sometimes you got REALLY HIGH and other times just a mild buzz. Today even bud will have a declared potency.

For most people, 1-3 mg is where they will want to start. This will give mild effects and depending on the product or strain it will help reduce stress, anxiety, and relaxation, and sometimes can also help improve creativity and focus.

As you consume more, roughly 3-15 mg, you will start to experience euphoria, a stronger set of effects listed above, and you may begin to feel stoned at this point and motor skills will begin to be impaired.

Beyond this point, there are other effects that can lead to impairments but for casual and first time consumers of cannabis, they should start small and work their way up.

Different Methods Of Consuming THC Products Will Have Different Reactions

One of the shocking things that many new cannabis consumers discover when they try edibles for the first time is that the experience can be very different than what they might have experienced smoking it in the past. With smoking as your method of consuming cannabis, the effects are felt almost immediately and they may also go away faster. However, when ingesting edibles the experience is much different.

When you consume an edible, the THC is metabolized in the liver and may take an hour or more to experience. The high will be much more intense and it can last much longer as well.

This is VERY important for people to recognize since new consumers can easily overdose if they think that the cannabis might not be affecting them as expected. My advice here is that if you are going to try edibles, start small with a dosage of no more than 3 mg that night. Try it and see how long it takes for your body to respond. Then try again a day or two later and increase or decrease your dosage accordingly.

However, if you overdose, generally speaking it won’t cause significant problems but it may be an uncomfortable experience when it finally kicks in.

The long lasting effect of edibles is one reason why that is a great format for people seeking pain relief or help with sleep. Smoking’s rapid response though can make it a great option for parties or even just watching a movie together with your partner.


Safe And Responsible Consumption Is Important

Above anything else, safe and responsible cannabis consumption is essential for the industry to continue. This is a privilege and cannabis has a lot of potential as both a medical and recreational product. However, when I see too many people treat it irresponsibly. You wouldn’t walk around town with an open beer can and you wouldn’t consider drinking and driving. Consuming cannabis will impair your abilities … that’s kind of the point. 

So be responsible and watch out for your friends. Give yourself extra time to “sober up” even if you think you are ok.