No matter what your history with cannabis is, it’s natural to feel a bit intimidated before that first visit to a legal dispensary. From the moment you open the front door, you will be encountering an adventure like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. The good news is you are hardly alone. Starting in 2012, only Washington and Colorado legalized cannabis for recreational use. Since then, nine other states have joined the club, bringing the grand total to 11. Dispensary newbies are still a very common daily occurrence, and dispensaries welcome them with open arms. There are a few tips for the uninitiated, however, which can make that first visit a smooth experience.

Be In the Know Before You Go

Once inside the dispensary, there are going to be a lot of terms and jargon that you may not be hip to, even if you’ve been indoctrinated into cannabis culture for a while. Budtenders are always willing to answer questions and make it their business to be experts in everything they sell. However, being able to be conversant will help them help you find what you are looking for.

To that end, there are a few questions that you should have answers for before you enter the dispensary.

  • How do you usually consume cannabis? You’ll have several options to either smoke, vape, drink, or eat.
  • How “high” do you want to get? Are you relatively new to THC and CBD, or are you an experienced smoker?
  • How do you want to feel? Do you want to experience a heady, more alert high, or are you looking for a “couch-locked” body high?
  • How long do you want the experience to last?
  • Especially if you are visiting from out-of-state, do you have all the accessories (rolling papers, lighters, etc.) you will need?

Come Prepared

While a little knowledge is a good thing, there are some absolutes that are needed to ensure a good experience. Depending on the state in which you will be visiting the dispensary, there may be variations, but some of the dispensary-visit prerequisites are the same across the board. First, you will need to have government-issued photo identification (or a medicinal cannabis card) with you to gain entry into the dispensary. It doesn’t matter if you are clearly over the age of 21, ID is mandatory.

In this world of paying for purchases wherever by simply tapping your phone, the other necessity might be less obvious to dispensary rookies. Because of the legal grey area that dispensaries exist in, they don’t have the same access to financial networks that other legitimate businesses do. Because of that, many dispensaries do not accept credit cards for payment. Some dispensaries may allow the use of debit cards, processing the transaction like an ATM withdrawal, which of course means an additional fee.

Cash, therefore, is king at the dispensary. Because of this, many dispensaries have an ATM on-site for you to use before entering the storefront. It’s always a good idea to go prepared, however, and have an idea as to how you will be paying for your selections.

What To Expect Once You’re There

Shopping a dispensary is unlike any other shopping experience you’ve ever had, and that might be the most intimidating part of the experience. Thinking about it like visiting a bar can help put things in better perspective. Just like your local bar, before anything else, you will be asked to verify your age. Once your age is verified, you will be granted access to enter the store and begin your experience. 

When it’s your turn, you will be greeted by a budtender (notice the similarities to the word “bartender”), who will be your guide throughout the entire purchasing process. Of course, you will be greeted by some permutation of “What are you looking for?” For dispensary veterans, their orders may roll off their tongue just like they are ordering a Captain and Coke. As a newbie, however, your answer is probably going to be more descriptive. Think back to how you answered questions like how high you wanted to get, how you were going to consume, etc., and let your budtender guide you. At the end of the purchasing process, if you feel you’ve been well taken care of, it’s always welcome to tip your tender.

The most important thing to remember is to take your time and ask your budtender any and all questions you might have. The best budtenders will always take their time to ensure you are happy with your selections, and with your overall experience.


I've been writing since 2008 about a wide range of topics. I also love making furniture in my spare time, and birdwatching with my wife near our home in southern England.

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