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how to buy from a dispensary

If marijuana is legal now, why can’t you buy it at the drugstore or while grocery shopping? Many states have legalized it over the last five years, but the federal government still considers marijuana illegal.

While most dispensaries can serve both kinds of customers — medical and recreational — generally there are differences between the two operations.

What Is a Marijuana Dispensary?

Next, you’ll decide how you want to consume marijuana once you get home. You can buy the original flower and use it as you please, but you also can get vape cartridges, edibles like pot brownies, pre-rolled joints or blunts, and oil tinctures.

Don’t worry! We’re here to help make your first time as pleasant as possible. There are a few items you’re required to bring, like cash and a valid ID, but there’s also a shared etiquette to understand before visiting a dispensary. In this article, we’ll explain how to buy weed at a dispensary by discussing what you should bring and the way most customers behave once inside.

Finally, bring cash with you. Dispensaries can’t process credit or debit cards for cannabis purchases because it’s still considered illegal under federal law.

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?

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!"

"When people come in and they ask for something, we're really illustrating a spectrum [of experience]," Payan says, "and there are a lot of variations in the spectrum." So whether you're a total newbie or more experienced, thinking about these questions will guide you as you figure out the kind of experience you want in more and more detail.

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.

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.

The first step is to take your time browsing available products. A recreational marijuana dispensary can be staggering at first glance, so take your time to slowly look through all of the products offered. Marijuana products often have information on their labels that give the user more information about the possible effects of use.

A state ID or driver’s license from any state or a passport proving you are over 21 will get you access to legal dispensaries in six of the recreational marijuana states in the U.S.:

If you need help finding the right type of marijuana products for you and would rather walk into a recreational marijuana dispensary with a product in mind, we are happy to offer a guide to help you make your purchase decision. Visit our medical marijuana product guide to learn more.

Which Marijuana Product Is Best for Your Needs?

Physical shops are a popular way for many consumers to buy their cannabis products. Customers can see the range of products for sale, check out the packaging, smell the different strains of cannabis flower, and ask as many questions as it takes to find the best products.

You can learn more about finding the best dispensary near you in our dispensary guide.

Anyone who does this is breaking the law and asking for trouble. While many states have made recreational marijuana legal, it is still federally illegal. Therefore, when you are crossing state lines with marijuana, you are technically breaking federal law. Even if you purchased the marijuana legally in your state of origin, it is against the law to cross state lines with any marijuana on your person.

Marijuana dispensaries will provide a wide selection of brands and product types to satisfy the needs of their many customers. Here are some of the products you are likely to find in dispensaries. If it is your first time at the dispensary, take the time to browse the products and ask questions until you find something that sounds right for you.