What you need to know before you visit your first cannabis dispensary

No longer relegated to angsty teens getting high in their parents’ basement, cannabis is becoming more mainstream as many states legalize both medicinal and recreational use.(New York State voted in 2020 to legalize cannabis, while Massachusetts and Vermont have been legal for several years.) With more and more adults realizing that cannabis can be a favorable alternative to alcohol, this burgeoning industry will only continue to grow. (How big is it? Well, by 2025 42% of total annual U.S. cannabis demand—reportedly worth $65 billion—is projected to be met by legal purchases in regulated marketplaces, up from 24% in 2020.)

A recent report by Fortune magazine shows that the pandemic caused a significant rise in regular cannabis users, owing to the increased availability and ease in obtaining marijuana, especially once home delivery was approved. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Babyboomers contributed a significant amount of the new customer sales. And even before the Covid crisis hit, a when showed cannabis consumers 50 and older increased by 105%, with “topicals” purchases increasing by 67% in particular. 


But while boomers may be interested in returning to cannabis use or perhaps trying it for the first time, knowing what to do and how to approach it can be intimidating. Consuming cannabis has come a long way from the days when rolling a big fatty or bringing out the bong was your main choice. While smoking is still an option, edibles—also a long cry from the days of Alice B. Toklas brownies—offer consuming options galore for those who don’t want to smoke. Added bonus? Edibles come in a variety of doses so consumers can go as low and slow as they want. 

With so many options, walking into that dispensary can feel intimidating. Here’s what you can expect on your first visit. 

Before you go, do some research

Finding a dispensary near you is actually a really simple undertaking. If you just Google “legal marijuana near me” you’ll get a bunch of hits, but that can also lead you astray if you’re not canny. Look for dispensaries with websites that are well-constructed, informational, and optimally that allow the posting of reviews. As with anything online, there are always a few one-star reviews that you may need to take with a grain of salt, but most sites that we looked at had customers gushing about employee helpfulness and willingness to educate. 

If you’re more comfortable relying on a bigger market, Leafly.com is a wonderful online resource that can help you search verified dispensaries; the home page will even automatically include a link to local shops if you have your location services turned on. The site also breaks down how to order weed online, and helpfully explains the different categories you can shop from. (Do keep in mind that they will also be obligated to promote their sponsors first.)

Once you’ve located a shop you want to check out, peruse their website to make sure they will have what you’re looking for. Not all dispensaries offer the same products.

Go prepared when you are ready to purchase cannibas

There are a few aspects of purchasing cannabinoid products that make it unique in today’s marketplace. For example, most (if not all) places will require you to make your purchase in cash. This is largely due to how they are regulated, as credit companies and their facilitators (like the mobile Square app) shy away from being used in dispensaries. Most will have ATMs in the store, but if you use a debit card, expect to pay an additional fee. 

In addition to having cash, make sure you bring a valid form of identification. A state-issued driver’s license is adequate, but a passport or similar form of I.D. will work just as well.

Don’t Be Shy

The hard part is over! Sellers (called budtenders) are often aficionados and love to help educate people about all the different experiences cannabis provides. So ask questions! And be prepared to answer a few yourself, such as what you’re looking to achieve by consuming cannabis. Do you want to wind down after a long day at work, or are you looking for a little buzz to enjoy at a concert? There are myriads of strains of marijuana that can produce almost infinite variations of reactions, and the budtender is there to help you get the results you want. 

They can also assist you in figuring out how you want to consume cannabis, which ranges from topical ointments and concentrates to vape pens or edibles. The method can also affect the experience, so remember to stay away from anything that will make you uncomfortable.

Should I Get a Medical Marijuana Card?

You might be wondering about the difference between recreational weed and the cannabis you can get if you qualify for a Medical Marijuana Card, or MMJ. First of all, in order to obtain an MMJ, you would need a physician’s approval. Doctors are allowed to grant their approval upon diagnosis of various qualifying conditions that differ from state to state but range from chronic pain to cancer (you can find a more comprehensive list here.) Upon receiving your doctor’s approval the next step is to register with the state. This can usually be done online and will require a small fee. Once your application is accepted you will be issued a temporary card that you can print out and use until the official one is delivered by mail.

While you may not need an MMJ to obtain marijuana, there are some perks to having one. Some dispensaries can offer products with a higher potency for medical patients, or they may have a wider range of consumption methods. (As for potency, you may or may not know the two main medicinal ingredients in marijuana are THC and CBD. CBD, or Cannabidiol, has been proven to have many beneficial properties that can help treat a number of conditions. THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” feeling. While THC is also medicinally beneficial, its psychoactive nature isn’t always ideal for those who are using it strictly for health reasons.) It is often the case that medical marijuana will typically have a higher CBD to THC ratio, whereas the opposite might be true of the recreational variety. 

The marijuana approved for medicinal use is also under stringent control in terms of cultivation and standards of preparation for market. While everyone including recreational marijuana users can be assured of a safe product, with more care associated with medical cannabis production it typically takes the title as the purer and safer product.

So our answer to whether you should get an MMJ is…maybe? If you’re looking to dabble here and there it might not be worth the effort, but if you are considering making marijuana consumption something that you do regularly and/or you have underlying medical conditions, the effort could end up paying off.