This year, I celebrated my birthday in Vegas. I attended a heavy metal concert in Nevada, a state where medical and recreational marijuana (cannabis) are now legal. So, in between sets of loud, heavy riffage, I visited a dispensary off the Strip to see what it was like.
Despite the fact that I’ve written a lot about cannabis over the years and have a lot of first-hand experience with it, I’d never been able to buy it in a, uh, legitimate setting. My only previous encounter with a dispensary was waiting outside one in San Francisco, where medical marijuana online dispensary has been legal since 1996, for a buddy to bring me some of the most intense cookies I’d ever tasted. (Two cookies lasted the entire summer for me.) So I was curious to see what it was like inside a dispensary, especially since the legislation in Las Vegas was much newer than in California, and I assumed a lot had changed.
In Nevada, cannabis became legal for medical use in 2000 and for adult (recreational) use in 2016.
Adult-use cannabis sales began on July 1, 2017—less than a week later, the state was hit with a scarcity. However, it’s worth noting that prior policies had a considerably greater impact on some neighborhoods than others. Even in states where cannabis usage is legal, there is still inequity. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, people of all races consume and acquire cannabis at about the same rate, but people of color are significantly more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession. Despite the fact that cannabis-related arrests have decreased dramatically since 2010, persons of color continue to make up the majority of those arrested.
So, yes, even when it wasn’t, smoking pot has always been legal for me, your average white lady. However, the dispensary experience was new to me, and I believed it would help me better understand my own relationship with the plant.
When I entered the Apothecarium, my selected business, I was greeted by a spotless yet welcoming environment, complete with a spacious waiting space for customers to complete paperwork and a separate open area for consultations. Each customer has a one-on-one meeting with their budtender (yep, that’s how they’re referred to) at a table along a long counter with a leather-bound menu book on top. Your budtender will pull out samples of cannabis for you to smell and inspect as you browse through, as well as anything else you might be interested in, such as vape pens, edibles, or pre-rolled joints. It felt like I was buying tea; I remember thinking to myself as I walked out, “That’s how it should feel!”
The first step, according to Sara Payan, public education officer at the Apothecarium (which has three locations in San Francisco), is to choose the correct dispensary for you. If you’re a first-timer, look for one that offers some form of instructional program, as this indicates that it’s more welcoming to newcomers, she says. However, because there is a dispensary for everyone and every degree of experience, it’s a good idea to do some independent research to choose the perfect one for your needs.
Googling provided me a fair idea of what was close to my accommodation. There were the usual stoner hangouts, as well as a soon-to-be-opened cannabis “supermarket” and a few more boutique alternatives, including the Apothecarium. If you’re not sure where to go, Leafly’s dispensary finder is a good place to start. Nevada Wellness Center, Premium Produce, GFive Cultivation, and Zion Gardens are just a few of the cannabis businesses created by people of color in Vegas to keep in mind.
Once you’ve decided on a place, remember that being well-prepared pays off big time. I was ecstatic to see that my hours of research (read: delaying on real work) were so well spent. I’m the type of person who develops a color-coded Google doc for every long weekend travel. So here are a few ways I made the most of my first dispensary visit. Whether you’re a seasoned cannabis user visiting for the first time or a local checking out your newfound cannabis access for the first time, this may be of use to you.
1. Your budtender will want to know why you’re there and what your marijuana goals are, so come prepared with an answer.
Despite the fact that I was aware that there are virtually an infinite number of strains available, I had the notion that there were only two types of marijuana: the kind that made me drool until I went asleep and the kind that made me sweat with paranoia. So I was astonished to find myself having such a long discussion about my holiday plans with my budtender. Is it better to smoke pot by the pool or during a concert? Is it likely that I’ll be drinking as well? In a crowded environment, how anxious would I be? When it comes to supper, how relaxed is too relaxed?
“We’re actually illustrating a spectrum [of experience] when people walk in and ask for something,” Payan says, “and there are a lot of variances in the spectrum.” So, whether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned pro, thinking about these questions can help you narrow down the type of experience you want in greater depth.
To begin, you should expect to be asked if you want to be relaxed or uplifted. What kind of energy are we talking about? Do you want a more energizing, clean sensation that allows you to get out and about and be active? Do you want to relax by hanging out at the park, or are we talking about winding down at the end of the day? Or do you require anything even more substantial to assist you in becoming asleep?
Aside from how different strains may affect you, our individual variances may also have an impact. Payan explains, “We’re walking chemistry experiments.” In addition, the environment you’re in, the people you’re with, and the other substances you’re taking can all have an impact on how you feel. If you’ve had previous cannabis experiences, good or bad, it’s a good idea to share them with your budtender so they can assist you through this type of talk. Bring it up if you haven’t had any past cannabis experiences.
2. Don’t be afraid to be open and honest, and expect to be bombarded with questions.
“We want to make sure that everyone is as well-informed as possible,” Payan explains. If you have a question, no matter how simple or dumb you think it is, your budtender will be happy to answer it. It’s their responsibility! You don’t need to make an appointment (walk-ins are allowed), but if you want a consultation in complete privacy, you must contact beforehand.
I brought along a friend who had never—never!—consumed cannabis in any manner, shape, or form before. They had a lot of questions, which I had almost forgotten were ones that someone could have. Those are, of course, the types of questions that become the most vital to raise.
“How will I be able to tell when I’m high? What is the average time it takes to feel high? What is the procedure for turning on the vape pen? “They inquired, and our sweet budtender responded with the compassion and patience of my favorite elementary school teacher to each question. There is no such thing as a foolish or “beginning” question.
3. Find out what payment methods your preferred dispensary accepts and bring cash if required.
The federal government still considers cannabis to be illegal, which could provide some difficulties in terms of payment (lol banks!). For the time being, many stores are only accepting cash. Some people, however, have discovered loopholes and workarounds that allow them to accept credit and debit cards.
That’s why it’s crucial to know ahead of time what your preferred dispensary accepts. You don’t want to spend $200 on something only to discover that your Visa isn’t accepted. Payan suggests phoning ahead of time or checking the dispensary’s website to see what payment methods they accept.
4. Keep track of any health conditions that may have an impact on your experience.
Although cannabis’ side effects are rarely severe, they do occur, and it’s vital to be aware of them and how your body reacts to them. For example, we know that weed can produce a fast heart rate and that breathing it can irritate the lungs, as SELF previously stated. Mental health issues are also taken into account—if you’re prone to anxiety, for example, be aware that certain strains of cannabis might induce highs that cause even more discomfort.
In my instance, I was aware that some concentrated oils, although being vaped, aggravated my asthma. I’m not sure why, but I wish I’d mentioned it during my consultation, and especially before buying a whole cartridge of oil and a vape pen that gave me some terrible coughing fits before I gave up.
So, if you have a medical condition, you should consult your doctor about the best manner to consume cannabis (if at all). If you have lung problems, your doctor or budtender may recommend that you stick to edible cannabis products that don’t involve inhaling smoke or vapor.
5. Figure out what kind of identification and other documentation you’ll need.
This may appear to be tedious bureaucracy, but it is necessary. Different states have different rules regarding the process, so it’s critical to learn about them ahead of time. I only needed my government-issued state ID and to be at least 21 years old in Las Vegas (check and definitely check).
If you’re a medical patient, which means you’ve registered with your state to use cannabis to treat a medical condition, you’ll almost definitely require specific identification or paperwork to prove your status.
6. You won’t be able to return anything you’ve tried, so just buy what you’re comfortable with.
Finally, Payan advises that people approach cannabis with “friendly inquiry.” So, within reason, be open to new cannabis experiences. The Apothecarium will accept returns if the product is defective (for example, a broken battery), but if you go home, try it out, and decide it’s not for you, Payan says that’s simply one “chalked up to experience.” And that’s not always a terrible thing, she argues, because you’ll learn a lot more about how you react to cannabis as a result.
However, there are some more intelligent ways to experiment. Payan claims that the Apothecarium sells single cookies and gummies in 10- and two-packs, so you may split a larger pack with a friend or just grab a tiny one for yourself. That way, there’s less of a chance you won’t appreciate it. If you’re wanting to buy cannabis flower, she recommends starting with a gram. It’ll make enough for a few bowls, but it’s little enough that you won’t be left with much if you don’t like it.
This is especially important if you’re simply passing through, like I was, because you can’t carry cannabis out of the state. (Because different airports have different policies and flying between marijuana-legal states is legally dubious, the best suggestion is to do your research before you go!) You clearly don’t want to waste any of the valuable stuff you’ve paid for, but the alternative is to risk being jailed if you carry it into an area where it’s illegal. Fortunately, the Las Vegas airport has several convenient “amnesty boxes” designed for just this purpose. Still, the ideal case situation is to get the correct amount—and the right type—of cannabis for your vacation in the first place.