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how to buy from a dispensary

Once you've got a destination in mind, know that it really pays to be prepared. Being the sort of person who creates a color-coded Google doc for every long weekend getaway, I was delighted to find that my hours doing research (read: procrastinating on real work) were so well spent. So here are few ways I got the most out of my first trip to a dispensary. Whether you're a seasoned cannabis user just visiting or a local who's checking out your newfound access to cannabis for the first time, this might help you too.

Although medical use sales didn't start until 2015, adult use sales officially kicked off on July 1, 2017—and the state promptly ran into a cannabis shortage less than a week later. However, it's important to point out that previous policies affected some communities far more deeply than others. And, even in states that have legalized cannabis use, that inequality continues. People of all ethnicities use and purchase cannabis at about the same rate, but people of color are much more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. And although cannabis-related arrests are significantly down overall since 2010, people of color still make up the bulk of those arrested.

Although I knew there were basically an infinite number of strains out there, I had been under the impression that there were really only two types of weed: the kind that made me drool until I fell asleep and the kind that made me sweat with paranoia. So I was surprised to find myself having such a detailed conversation with my budtender about my vacation plans. Did I want poolside weed or did I want concert weed? Would I be drinking as well? How anxious would I be in a crowd of people? How relaxed is too relaxed for dinner?

Although I've written about cannabis a fair amount over the past several years and have had plenty of first-hand experience with it, I hadn't ever been able to purchase it in a, uh, legit setting. My only previous experience with a dispensary was waiting outside of a somewhat dingy looking one in San Francisco—where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996—for a friend to grab me some of the most potent cookies I'd ever tried. (Seriously, two cookies lasted me the entire summer.) So I was eager to find out what the inside of a dispensary would be like, especially since the legislation in Las Vegas was much more recent than that in California and I imagined a lot had changed.

So, yes, smoking weed has effectively always been legal for me, your basic white lady—even when it wasn't. But the dispensary experience was still something new to me and, I hoped, would help me understand my personal relationship with the plant in a different way.

According to Sara Payan, public education officer at the Apothecarium (which has three additional locations in San Francisco), the first step is choosing the right dispensary for you. If you're a first-timer, it may be best to seek out one that has some sort of educational program, which would suggest that it's more open to beginners, she says. But there's a dispensary for everyone and every level of experience, so it's a good idea to do some research on your own to pick the best one for your circumstances.

When I walked into the Apothecarium, my chosen shop, I found a pristine yet welcoming store with a large waiting area for customers to fill out their paperwork and a separate open area for consultations. Each customer meets individually with their budtender (yes, this is really what they're called) at a space along a large counter with a leather-bound menu book on top. As you flip through, your budtender will take out samples of herb for you to smell and inspect, as well as anything else you might be curious about, including vape pens, edibles, or pre-rolled joints. It felt like buying tea; I remember walking out thinking, "That's what it should feel like!"

You don’t need to know exactly what you want.

Can I get it delivered?

Your clerk will tell you how strong each strain is. If you’re a novice, don’t jump into the deep end—if you don’t know what wax, shatter, dabbing, or other cannabis terms are, then they’re not for you. Stick to low dosages, too (measured in milligrams), unless you want to spend your entire visit to California in a useless haze.

Don’t let them smell you.

Be careful if you smoke in a hotel.