3 things to know for your first dispensary visit

First dispensary visit: person behind counter holds cannabis in tongs.

Visiting a dispensary for the first time can feel overwhelming, and the overwhelm only increases once you hit the counter. Working in dispensaries over the years I’ve seen many types of new consumers walk in, from the grandma with pain to the college student seeking a fun experience. My friend Nancy (who now educates seniors on cannabis medicine) said it took her two years to work up the nerve to visit an adult-use dispensary. The loud music and feeling that she was ‘too old’ for the store culture made her nervous. Once she made it in, she kept purchasing products that were a much higher dose than she needed, and the result was a very uncomfortable high rather than relief.

There is a knowledge gap between the industry and consumer that can create confusion for first-time visitors that results in visits like the one above. After you finally cross the store’s threshold you’re faced with choosing between dozens of products that may result in a negative experience.

I’ve learned a lot working as a budtender at medical and adult-use dispensaries from the Bay Area to Northern Arizona to the Pacific Northwest. I’ve seen visits to dispensaries go very well, and very poorly, and I’ve thought of a lot of things that could have made those bad visits more productive for the consumer. Here are some great ways to prepare for a dispensary visit, whether it’s your first time in or just your first time at this shop.

Identify your needs

There are a lot of products to choose from at the counter, from types of product to flavors to strains to milligrams. With all of these options it will be helpful to identify what you’re looking for before walking through that door. This could mean knowing the type of product you’re interested in like edibles or vapes or flower, walk in with an idea of what you’d like to accomplish with the products. Maybe your doctor sent you for a topical to help tennis elbow, or you’re interested in finding something that may help you sleep. Having one or both of these needs in mind before entering a cannabis retail space can keep you focused as you blink nervously into the television menus and colorful boxes behind the counter.

Read the reviews

Some regions only have one store to visit, but many markets have options. Before deciding on which dispensary is right for your needs, check on Google, Yelp, WeedMaps, and Leafly to see what other customers say about the service. In a state market with multiple stores to choose from, each dispensary will offer a slightly different ambience and experience. A senior seeking therapeutic options may not want to end up in a store designed for people who dab, for example, as they often have louder music, and the budtenders’ knowledge base may be on extracts rather than topicals and tinctures. These nuances can often be gleaned from customer reviews.

Check the menu online

After completing the aforementioned legwork, it’s time to check the online menu. The sheer amount of products in a store can give even a seasoned stoner decision fatigue. To avoid this, check the menu before your visit and pick 2-5 things that you’d like to see in the store. Before the pandemic it was a toss up whether a dispensary had an online menu at all, let alone if it was updated regularly. But now, curbside pickup and online orders are normal, and as a result, online dispensary menus are much more reliable. Before your visit, get your bearings with the online menu and write down a few products. It can help you feel more empowered in your decisions and less confused. And hopefully, it will help you end up with a product that perfectly meets your needs.

Lack of knowledge shouldn’t stop someone from exploring the world of regulated cannabis, but it often does. These tips should help even the more nervous customers gain the confidence they need to visit their neighborhood dispensary.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.