Whenever you visit a dispensary, consider it Dispensary 101 that the establishment is staffed by knowledgeable budtenders.
Think about it, the butcher, the baker, the teenager putting the new iPhone through its paces for you at the Apple store — they’re there out of their own self-interest, yes (for motives, there is nothing like pure financial survival), but they’re also there to tell you everything you need to know about the goods they’re selling to you.
Of course they are. Imagine the salesperson at the used car lot incapable of rattling off all the features, real and imagined, on the “new-to-you” selection of the day. Worse, picture the pharmacist without a clear grasp of the side effects of your new medication or who neglected to run a drug-interaction check seeing the sum effect of everything in your medicine cabinet (a real thing, and spectacularly dangerous if overlooked).
All this is to say that we enter into our commercial relationships with basic expectations. You come in with money, and the merchant comes with some fluency with their products. If their grasp on their wares is shaky or tenuous, something is wrong. And if they’re not keeping up their end of the bargain, you should take yourself and your money elsewhere.
This is the standard to which anyone selling legal cannabis should be held. Yet, at times it’s a standard that goes unmet at cannabis retail outlets.
Oftentimes, this is due to the blinding speed with which most transactions are conducted. There’s simply too much to take in — too many strains, too many OGs. You don’t know where to begin — and there are people in line behind you!
Take a breath and relax. You, the consumer, are in charge.
You can avoid the attendant unpleasant evening of unexpected, uncomfortable highness, or dropping a grip on a cannabis product that just isn’t good for you by posing to your budtender a few very basic, very reasonable queries.
If they can’t or won’t provide you with this fundamental information, you should feel confident in running far, far away — and not coming back until the dispensary’s management employs qualified staff, or until he or she provides necessary training.
So, with that, here are five Dispensary 101 questions every budtender should be able to answer — five questions you should feel comfortable posing:
“What is this?”
Might as well begin at the beginning. What, indeed, is Silverback Gorilla Haze OG, other than the word salad of the day arbitrarily slapped on what could possibly be an otherwise average batch of pot? Without any kind of agreed-upon genetic standards for what differentiates an SFV OG from a Tahoe OG — and no guarantee (yet) that a famous name was applied to a strain with no relationship or even resemblance to it whatsoever — the consumer has the right to ask what the hell it is the budtender is selling.
The budtender should be able to tell you this plant’s lineage — if it came from a well-known seed bank and what known strains served as its parents. They should also be able to tell you who grew it — was it in-house, or was it cultivated by a well-known producer? — and how (indoor, outdoor, greenhouse, organically, veganic standards, etc).
If they don’t know, that’s not good. This means they won’t have a real clue as to this next point, which is...
“What will this do to me?”
This is a vital Dispensary question. It's hard to answer definitively, but you should be able to walk away with a rough idea.
Here is where nuance comes into play. Cannabis isn’t entirely like wine, where quality and scarcity of grapes and vintages is subordinate to the drinker’s palate and preference in determining whether the pour is “good,” but they’re analogous enough in some respects. The budtender should absolutely know the strain’s THC and CBD content — and in some states, they’ll have testing results far more detailed than that. They should also know the strain’s basic terpene profile (more on that later).
Armed with all this, they should have a general idea of what the strain will do. At the same time, the customer should be able to tell the budtender what they want — pain relief, a joyous morning, a good night’s sleep — and also alert them to their tolerance and experience levels.
In return, the budtender should be aware that the old-school “indica-sativa” binary is by now far exploded — everything is hopelessly hybridized — but should also be able to respond with a suggested strain (or three) if the customer says they want a “60-40 hybrid with mindful calming effects that won’t put me into a stupor.”
Finding exactly what you want will require some give-and-take and some foreknowledge on your part, but if the budtender can’t rattle off some of these basics about what’s in that jar — good for daytime, good for sleep, good for pain, etc. — you shouldn’t feel compelled to buy it.
“Who does your testing — and can I see the results?”
Question royalty, the key point, the heart of the matter. This is how you determine whether the product is safe or not.
Cleanliness and product safety is a real problem in the marijuana industry. Most states have mandatory, state-regulated testing. Others — including California, at least until January 2018 — do not. What’s left is a libertarian’s dream, a safety inspector’s nightmare — a wild west of sorts.
Even when there are safety regulations in place, cannabis tainted with pesticides, mold, or other nastiness makes its way onto the market.
Testing data should be basic information the budtender knows by heart. If you haven’t heard of the testing company, whip out your iPhone and look it up.
“Can I smell it/can I take a peek?”
Let’s say the budtender is able to rattle off a whole shopping-list’s worth of terpenes. Do you know what they are and what they do? You probably don’t — and that’s not a character flaw. This is all very new information. One way to find out for yourself is to take a deep sniff and see how your mind and body reacts. Did you like it? Did it relax or excite — or repel you? The terpene content is a fine indicator of the strain’s final effects.
In the event that the dispensary is selling you buds in an opaque container, you should also demand a visual inspection. Many flaws in cannabis are plainly visible — and getting a peek at the buds’ size, shape, and density will give you an idea if you’re paying top-shelf prices for mid-grade reefer.
Many dispensaries these days have pre-packaged eighths. The “let me smell it” rule still applies. They should be able to open them up and give you an olfactory taste. If they won’t, take your money somewhere else.
“How long has this been sitting around? When did this come in?”
This is not the equivalent of asking the sushi chef if the fish is fresh. In that case, you’ll insult them if the fish is fresh — because it’s supposed to be — and if it isn’t, do you think you’ll get a straight answer?
At the marijuana dispensary, the budtenders will know if something’s been on the shelf so long that it’s drying out — and if something has been lying around long enough to dry out, it’s also losing cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavor. It won't be as effective and it simply won't be as pleasant to consume, whether you're vaping, smoking, or turning it into oil for edibles.
Cannabis is a flower, an agricultural product — and flowers don't keep forever. Of course, if the producer did a bad job curing, it won't make much difference how long the flower has been sitting around.
But at least you asked this, and the other, Dispensary 101 questions.