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Cannabis 101

What to know before you visit a dispensary for the first time

Published on July 12, 2021 · Last updated February 28, 2023
Kay Van Gunst and Charlotte Witsoe, residents of Laguna Woods Village, an age 55 and up community, browse cannabis products at Bud and Bloom medical and recreation dispensary in Santa Ana, Calf. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Nick Agro for Leafly)

There’s a first time for everything, including your very first trip to a cannabis dispensary. A good first-time experience often boils down to expectations, and many people want to know exactly what to expect before they even think about visiting a dispensary. 

In this first-time dispensary guide, we’ll break down every key nuance of the shopping experience so you can feel informed, confident, and empowered before purchasing cannabis. A trip to the dispensary isn’t as complicated or intimidating as it may seem, but there are a few important tips to know to make your first experience a positive one. Read on for how to get the most out of your first visit to a dispensary.

Leafly’s beginner’s guide to weed

Before you go to a dispensary

Get in the right frame of mind

The most important thing to do before your first visit is to get into the right mindset.

Despite being curious about cannabis, some people initially shy away from purchasing it in a dispensary visit because of the perceived stigma attached to weed. Still, if you live in a state where cannabis is legal,  visiting and purchasing from a legal cannabis dispensary is your  right, and the process can be easily compared to a visit to a liquor store (more on that later).

The bottom line? Feel confident knowing what you’re about to do is  legal, and you’ll  be supporting a small business in your community.

Have a cannabis goal

If it’s your first time at a dispensary, you may not know exactly what cannabis products you want to buy, and that’s okay. 

Instead of focusing on the products that you want, we suggest thinking about the effects you’d like to feel (or not feel). For example, sativa strains are generally considered to be uplifting, while indica strains are relaxing. Hybrid strains are available too, with balancing effects that fall in between sativa and indica. It’s also helpful to think about flavors and smells that you like or dislike before setting foot in the store. If you like the flavor and aroma of grapefruit but don’t want to feel sleepy, your goal may be to find a product with energizing effects that tastes like grapefruit. Keep this goal in mind as you make your way to the dispensary. On the flip side, if you do have a strain in mind, find it on Leafly to learn about its specific flavors and effects.

Know your local rules and regulations

Before you dig into your dispensary haul, you’ll want to triple-check the cannabis laws in your state to make sure that you’re smoking or consuming cannabis legally. While every state has different laws and regulations, the safest place for you to smoke weed is usually in the privacy of your own home. If you rent your house, you will likely need written consent from the landlord to smoke or consume cannabis.

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Remember, bringing cannabis across state lines is illegal both by way of land and air. In other words, don’t drive across the state with weed in your car, and don’t try to sneak weed onto an airplane. 

Bring your ID

This is a pretty easy one to get right. The hard and fast rule at virtually any dispensary is that valid proof of identification is required before you’re permitted to enter, and you must be at least 21 years old. The best proof of identity  is a valid state-issued driver’s license or identification card, while other forms of ID may be accepted depending on the location of the dispensary, such as: 

  • A passport book
  • A passport card
  • Active military valid ID (with picture and birthdate)
  • Native-American tribe card (if applicable)
  • Temporary driver’s license paperwork with voided driver’s license

Visiting a dispensary in a different state? Not a problem. Out-of-state licenses are an acceptable form of ID when visiting a legal weed shop for the first time in a state that isn’t the one you live in and got your license in. The exception to this rule is an expired license, since it will not be accepted.

Bring cash or a debit card

Credit cards and other non-cash forms of payment are not accepted at most dispensaries. Despite legalization in many states, cannabis is still considered federally illegal. Because credit cards are mandated at the federal level, credit cards cannot be used, making cannabis a cash-only industry. If you forgot cash or come up short, many dispensaries have ATMs located inside, although you will likely have to pay an additional ATM fee on top of your cash withdrawal. 

It’s also important to remember that cannabis is taxed, so prepare to spend more than just the total cost of your cannabis products. You’ll also have to pay state and local taxes. Note that cannabis products have a vast price range  which depends on many factors, such as quantity, consumption method, and potency. Budget anywhere between $30 to $150 for your first purchase. Additionally, You will have to pay state and/or local taxes, which tend to be extraordinarily high on cannabis products. Our best advice is to take more cash than you think you will need to ensure you have enough to cover taxes.

What’s the difference between joints, blunts, and spliffs?

When you’re at the dispensary

What to expect when you enter a recreational dispensary for the first time

After you’ve found a local recreational dispensary to visit, it’s time to embark on your adventure. But before you go, make yourself familiar with what to expect once you actually get inside the dispensary. Much like visiting a doctor’s office or the airport, there are a series of steps that have to happen in order to reach your end goal, including

Step 1: Enter the waiting room

Depending on the state you’re in, you may be asked to sit in a waiting room until it’s time for you to begin the shopping process. Some states do not have explicit waiting rooms and instead form single lines.

Step 2: Provide your ID

A dispensary will always ask to see your identification card at least once. After your identification card is presented and approved, you will be allowed to enter the room where marijuana products are sold.

Step 3: Take note of your surroundings

Take a mental note of  your dispensary’s layout. You might notice there are counters organized by specific product types, such as cannabis flower, edibles, concentrates, joints, smoking accessories, and more.

Step 4: Be prepared to show your ID again

Your budtender may ask to check your ID one more time prior to your purchase. This is normal. Legal cannabis dispensaries take compliance with age limits very seriously.

Step 5: Check-out

The check-out process is where you make your final decision on what cannabis products you want to buy, or not buy. If you’re totally lost, don’t worry: The budtender can help guide your decision based (more on this below). After the budtender rings up your total, they will also apply taxes to give you your grand total. At this point, you’ll give your cash to the budtender to complete the transaction. After that, you’ll receive a printed receipt  with your bagged items.

Winding Down With Cannabis: The Best Products for Your Nightly Routine

Tips for a successful first-time dispensary visit

Expect a line, wait for a budtender

Depending on the size of the dispensary, you may need to prepare yourself to wait in line either inside or outside. This means checking the weather before you head out so you aren’t left standing in the cold. Dispensary lines tend to move quickly, but you can avoid waiting by visiting during non-rush hours in the early morning or late evening. You can also ask people working at the dispensary when their busiest hours are, and avoid going during that time.

The reason for the line is simple: Many dispensaries operate on a one-to-one budtender-to-customer basis. You may be asked to wait until a budtender is available, then step forward and browse the store’s selection with the budtender’s help.

Take your time, and ask questions

People often feel like they need to rush when it’s their turn at the dispensary counter. Even if there’s a line of people waiting behind you, don’t stress. Take your time. Chat with the budtender and ask questions about cannabis products. Your budtender can help you decide between the different strains of bud and will work with you to find the best products based on your budget, needs, and wants. For example, top-shelf cannabis products tend to be more potent, expensive, and higher quality, while low-shelf options can get you the bigger bang for your buck. Ask your budtender about their favorite top-shelf, high-shelf, and low-shelf picks to help get the conversation going.

First-time customer discounts

Many dispensaries will provide discounts for first-time customers, such as BOGO discounts or even 10-20% off your total order. Some dispensaries also offer discounts and loyalty programs for repeat customers. If you return to the dispensary and make another purchase, you might be eligible for more deals or loyalty rewards points that add up to an even bigger discount later down the line. The best way to stay informed about dispensary discounts and deals is to ask your budtender, or check out weed deals at any time on Leafly.

Don’t take photos

It may be tempting to photograph the inside of a dispensary to share with friends or family, but photos are not allowed. Dispensaries don’t allow photos because of privacy and security reasons. For example, dispensaries don’t want you to photograph other customers who may not want to be captured inside of the store. Dispensaries may also have special pricing or in-store discounts that they don’t want competitors to know about.

Tip your budtender

While budtenders don’t solely work for tips, they are highly encouraged. When determining how much to tip your budtender, consider the level of customer service as well as the total amount you’re spending on cannabis. For instance, if you spent $25 on cannabis products and your budtender provided you with outstanding customer service, you might consider tipping $5.

Edibles dosage chart: How strong is your cannabis-infused edible?

After the dispensary

Review your strain on Leafly

After you’ve had a chance to sample your goodies, make sure to leave a strain review on Leafly. Reviewing the strains you’ve tried helps other cannabis consumers learn about them too. If you’ve created a free Leafly account, leaving strain reviews will provide you with a record of all the strains you’ve tried and how you felt about them. 

Review the dispensary on Leafly

Dispensaries love hearing about your experience in their store. Most dispensaries are small businesses, so your feedback is taken seriously. Your review has the potential to help these small business owners stick out among the crowd. To leave a dispensary review, find the dispensary page on Leafly and share what you liked or what you didn’t like about the experience. You’ll also be able to rate the dispensary on a scale of one to five stars.

Reorder on Leafly

When you’re ready to buy more cannabis products, remember that you can place your order online for pick-up through enabled dispensaries. When you use Leafly pickup, you don’t have to pay anything until you get to the store, and you can research strains that you’re interested in before making a purchase. 

To place an online order through Leafly, head over to our list of dispensaries that offer pick-up in your area.

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Cassidy Rush
Cassidy Rush
Cassidy is an SEO specialist and writer in Seattle covering cannabis. Before joining Leafly, she was a writer for PayScale and Delta Dental.
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