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Opinion: Let us smell the legal cannabis for sale, dammit!

January 31, 2020
smelling cannabis before buying
The nose knows: Legalization must include the right to sniff. (contentdealer/AdobeStock)

Comedian and commentator Ngaio Bealum hosted the smash-hit Netflix show Cooking on High,  and currently hosts the cannabis trivia app Daily Bonfire. A cannabis journalist and world traveler, Bealum opines on the missing freedoms of legalization. 

Leafly welcomes op-ed contributions from industry and political leaders on a range of topics related to cannabis.

“Follow your nose.” This has always been rule number one for finding good weed.

Before people even knew what a terpene was, before THC percentages were printed on the side of the jar, before regulations made finding quality cannabis an unnecessary gamble, the “follow your nose” principle has helped good people find good cannabis.

Please, regulators. Please. Look into your hearts, and bring back the deli-style cannabis club.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to follow this one simple rule now that cannabis is legal. Cannabis overregulation in many states has removed the time-honored tradition of opening the baggie and taking a good whiff. This has to end. We need to bring back the deli counter-style cannabis dispensary.

Smelling is medically important

This isn’t just emotions talking. This is science. Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give cannabis its flavors and effects. Different terpenes have different aromas. There’s a reason for that, and the reason is that weed loves us and wants us to be happy.

Your budtender can give you good advice—especially if you have taken the time and effort to find a budtender whose taste in cannabis resembles yours. But a budtender will never know you better than your own nose. Never ever.

Sure, there are states that pay lip service to cannabis commerce’s oldest ritual. But even in states where regulations allow “sniffers”—as the industry calls it—all too often the selection is stale or limited.

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In places that let you smell, legal cannabis consumers have to attempt to sniff the eensiest bit of dank aroma from a tiny hole in a jar. It doesn’t work. You can’t smell the weed! It’s a frustrating waste of time.

You know the feeling you get when you open a big jar of cannabis and the aroma just explodes through the room?

Where the people standing next to you, or sometimes 10 feet away from you, start to smile?

Maybe someone says something like, “Da-yum! That shit is LOUD!”

We need to bring that back.

Cannabis is like wine, cigars, or fruit

Many regulators in legalization states want to treat cannabis like cigarette tobacco, where the brand is the brand. A Marlboro is a Marlboro everywhere you go.

But weed is way more like wine or cigars: If you give two different cannabis growers the same plant, the weed they grow will smell and taste different. There will be similarities, but the differences will be noticeable. Think of it like a Popeye’s fried chicken sandwich versus one from Chick-Fil-A. Still chicken, but waaaaay different. It’s the same with weed.


Cannabis Terroir 101: What Is It, and What Factors Affect It?

A Blue Dream grown outdoors in Mendocino has a different aroma and flavor than one grown indoors in Palm Desert. And just like wine grapes can have “off” years, the same weed farmer can grow the same strain twice and get two different results.

I can’t stick my nose in a bag of weed? It's almost Unamerican.

Perhaps I am belaboring the point. But you get the gist. There is only one way to know which strain is likely to be one you really enjoy.

(OK: Two ways—but regulators won’t let dispensaries allow people to fire up free samples any time soon).

You got to LET PEOPLE SMELL THE WEED BEFORE THEY BUY IT! For the love of all that is holy. Is this too much to ask?

There is nothing you can say to make me change my mind. “The Pursuit of Happiness” is listed as an inalienable right in the Declaration of Independence. Well, I pursue happiness by finding great-smelling cannabis flowers.


Beyond THC: It’s time to assert the primacy of terpenes

No smell = Misallocated resources

How can I find a bargain if I can’t smell the weed? How do I know if that top-shelf, $70-a-freaking-eighth bud is worth me working 10 hours at federal minimum wage, if I don’t know what it smells like?

A farmers market will let you taste a cherry or two before you buy it. The fancy Cigar Shop will let you twirl umpteen different Maduro blends under your nose until you find the one you want. But I can’t stick my nose in a bag of weed? It’s almost Unamerican.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I’m old enough to remember when “bag appeal” was a prime selling point. Some traditions are too important to let go of.

Please, regulators. Please. Look into your hearts, and bring back the deli-style cannabis club.

Deli-style cannabis: Yay or nay? Share your perspective in the comments below.

Where is ‘deli-style’ adult-use cannabis shopping legal?

  • California—Banned
  • Washington—Banned
  • Oregon—Allowed
  • Colorado—Banned
  • Illinois—Banned
  • Massachusetts—Allowed
  • Alaska—Allowed

—compiled by David Downs

Loud houses: selected US dispensaries serving cannabis ‘deli-style’

Ngaio Bealum's Bio Image

Ngaio Bealum

Ngaio Bealum is an American comedian, musician, writer, actor, activist, juggler and publisher. He hosted the Netflix show Cooking on High, and hosts the trivia app Daily Bonfire. He writes columns in the Sacramento News & Review, and Cannabis Now, answering questions from readers about marijuana and the politics of legalization.

View Ngaio Bealum's articles

  • Jonathan King

    Impressively reasonable argument that no sensible regulator could ignore. Unfortunately ….

  • George N Korakas

    There is a reason why terpenes exist. There is a reason why product is always concealed. If you could smell it, you wouldn’t buy it.

  • Winslow Bouhier

    Hey, you don’t have to ban deli style cannabis to have access to prepackaged cannabis. Both can exist simultaneously.

    • Trixie Morris

      Good point but I’ve never heard of places doing both. I know some have smell samples and prepack.

  • Captain Blaze

    Gather some seeds and start to educate yourself (or your caregiver) on the proper way to grow cannabis organically. it may seem daunting (depending on your choice to grow indoor or outdoor) and may have associated extra cost, but when it all comes together you will be rewarded greatly and wonder why you didn’t start sooner

  • Casey

    98% of the medical dispensaries I’ve been to here are deli style… 🤷🏼‍♂️

  • It IS all about the emotions when you smell anything. Since that is the one sense you have that is wired directly into your emotional center. It’s the only sense that is wired backwards.

  • Kevin Meinert

    So. In Illinois, No deli style. BUT. No display cases at all! At least at RISE. What a strange (and very negative) experience compared with Colorado and California which have glass display cases that let you at least SEE the products for sale. So, I was surprised to see that you put Cali/Colo in the no deli style – since they definitely have display cases. BUT, I get it, they may not let you smell. But who smells the product at Subway or other delis! haha. I get it, smelling is nice. Probably not FDA friendly (nose hairs dropping in, ewww!). But nice. Smart article – you’re right, experience is KEY.

    • informativex

      Don’t be THAT guy. The one who says I GET IT multiple times but then makes a nose hair comment PROVING he didn’t get it. HAH!

    • Captain Blaze

      Illinois isn’t interested in you, just your money. The tax structure for recreational cannabis will encourage most to go underground once the novelty of open purchase wears off and the reality of economics takes over

  • Michael Bremer

    Good, I’m glad they don’t let disgusting people with poor hygiene stick their faces and slimy pizza slice fingers all over something I’m about to pay hundreds of dollars for. That’s all we need, outbreaks on top of outbreaks simply because a bunch of stoners couldn’t be bothered to wash their hands after handling their genitalia. Quit whining, “ohhhh I want to smellll it”.

  • Michael Bremer

    Exactly my thought. All we need is outbreaks on top of outbreaks because someone whined that they didn’t get to stick their face in a bag of weed?

  • Rizzo

    They let you smell the open jar at Goldn Bloom rec/med dispensary in San Diego…

  • Carly

  • Our evolution of purchasing has gone from over the last few years as this: 1: buy the cheapest bud 2: buy the cheapest bud with the highest THC content 3: buy top shelf and high TCH content and sativa, indica, or hybrid 4: Buy reasonably priced based on the terpene profile, sativa, indica, or hybrid that suits my needs as a MMJ patient. And top shelf or connoisseur for anniversary, Christmas, birthdays or for a rare strain we are dying to try.

    We have become like sommeliers of terpenes now. THC content is not relevant anymore. A 16% with a terpene profile suited for me is every bit as good, and powerful as a 28%. We use a PAX to get as much of the terpene profile we can. Post hit, sitting in the hot tub, you will hear something like, “it has a nice citrus start, I can detect some basil. Is that finish with dill remind you of diesel? We are having a blast with this.

    The thing I found surprising with this wonderful blog is the that deli style is not allowed in some states. I have a NM mmj card but we buy our bud in Trinidad, CO as the cost per gram is outrageous in NM and the quality is lacking. Not one single time in shopping there in the last four years have they ever not allowed us to smell. In contrast, they immediately open the jar and shove it toward you to smell if you show any interest in a strain, without asking, hands down every single shop we have been to. I had no idea this was such a big issue. Initially we had no clue what we were even smelling for, being in our 50s and first time users. Now that I am very much into terpenes and healing for PTSD for both of us and depression, plus pain, I am finding the bud tenders love talking to us and are impressed we shop according to terpenes only now.

    Anything citrusy such as Clementine, Mandarin Sunset, Orange Bubblegum etc makes me feel amazing mentally and keeps the PTSD in check. A pepperine terpene helps the aches and pains. Anything with a fruity base is uplifting, too, such as Jilly Bean or Fruity Pebbles. The ‘stars’ are good, although this is the one type of strain we look at according the name: Star Killer, Death Star, Battle Star, and on and on. Strawberry type profile helps me sleep.

    Every single time we go back to Trini we have new knowledge and the shopping experience is not as overwhelming. Don’t laugh you Washington and bigger city buyers but for us Trinidad, Colorado is the Ikea of weed shopping.


  • Exactly. As long as we have been crossing the NM/CO border to buy at Trinidad not a single shop has ever not let us smell. They actually ALL opened the jars before we ever even knew about sniffing and how to buy. Even at THCU which prepackages they will open up the prepackage to let you smell and inspect it.

  • Jake Stutzman

    Is anyone awake?!
    Has anyone heard of Bud Pods?
    They are Sampling Containers that give you Full Smelling Aroma ability while protecting the pot sample from contamination and also give you a full visual of the bud. Bud Bar Displays makes them and we use hundreds in our shops. They’re awesome-