Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Gonzalez-Walker

If you’ve never visited a recreational or medical marijuana dispensary before, it can be stressful knowing where to start. How do you choose the best dispensary for your needs? What methods of payment do they take?

We’ve all been there at one point! Leaf411 board member Ella Cressman recalls her first dispensary visit in the video below. Ella is the founder of HHP Collective, and is a licensed esthetician who has extensive training and experience formulating cannabidiol (CBD) topical products.

Finding a Good Dispensary

It seems like Google has everything covered these days, and marijuana dispensaries are no exception. You can search “dispensary near me” to find nearby options. The results typically include Google reviews and photos that provide a sense of product quality and store atmosphere. The dispensary website will also be listed, where you can find more information on the type of dispensary (recreational or medical), hours of operation and other details.

The Leaf411 resource guide is also a great place to check. Our supporting members have been fully vetted to ensure they are compliant with all regulations, and are committed to providing consistent, high-quality products along with attentive customer service.

There are a few online directories like Leafly that list dispensaries along with reviews and product menus from many locations. It’s important to know that companies pay to be listed and promoted on Leafly, so the amount of information about specific dispensaries may vary. 

Want to make new friends while visiting a dispensary? Consider taking a tour!

Katherine Golden, RN, Leaf411 CEO, touring the Seed & Smith’s cannabis cultivation facility.

A Great First-Time Option: Tour a Dispensary

A growing number of dispensaries offer free tours where you can learn more about their products. Leaf411 member Seed & Smith offers 40-minute tours showing their grow facilities, and how they harvest, process and extract cannabis for concentrates. You can even smell fresh terpenes on the tour!

Many community centers and senior programs also offer guided tours of local dispensaries (only in states with legalized marijuana, of course). These tours are popular with seniors who are curious about cannabis for health and wellness. 

Looking for Specific Cannabis Products?

If you’re looking for a specific product, you can use Leafly or the product manufacturer’s website to find nearby dispensaries that sell what you’re looking for. Check out Leaf411’s cannabis manufacturer listings to find high-quality products made by our supporting members.

Remember that marijuana products containing over 0.3% THC cannot be shipped for sale across state lines. If you’re eyeing a high-THC edible made by a company based in Oregon, chances are that it won’t be available outside of Oregon unless the company is a multi-state operator (MSO) with licensed production facilities in other states. For example, our supporting member Altus produces gummies and tablets that are sold in both Colorado and Nevada, and the incredibles brand is available in Colorado, Illinois and Oregon.

Making Your List Before You Go

Visiting a dispensary can feel a bit like being a kid in a candy store, especially when you’re checking out the edibles!

We suggest that you review the dispensary’s menu online before visiting. Use it to make a list of products you’re interested in. You can also list your questions and priorities—like wanting a flower strain that has high amounts of linalool (the terpene that’s also found in lavender).

Need help sorting out all the options? Our Leaf411 nurses can help at no cost to you through our hotline 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411). Our priority as an education-focused nonprofit is always to find the best options for our callers. We don’t get commissions for recommending one product over another.

Things to Take on Your First Dispensary Visit

You’ve made your list and found a dispensary that you’re excited to visit. Before you head out the door, make sure you have the following:

  • Government-issued identification: Valid government-issued photo identification is required to verify you are 21 or over (or 18 or older with a med card). Your ID will be checked several times during your dispensary visit (more on that below)
  • Med card: Depending on the dispensary, you may need to bring a medical marijuana card. In states with only legal medical marijuana, a med card is required to shop at dispensaries and legally possess marijuana.
  • Cash: Cash is king at most dispensaries. This is in large part due to federal banking restrictions preventing dispensaries from accepting credit card payments. Some dispensaries provide onsite ATMs in their lobbies, or even the ability to use your debit card and pin at the register. However, ATMs can break down or run out of cash. Your best bet is bring enough cash to cover your purchase.
  • Don’t forget sales tax when planning on how much cash you’ll need! Sales tax on recreational marijuana is much higher than sales tax at the grocery store. States set their own tax rate, then counties and local municipalities add on additional taxes as well. The marijuana sales tax rate can range from 5% to almost 50% sales tax, depending on the dispensary’s location. When you visit a dispensary, be sure to ask if their prices include sales tax, or if it’s added on at the end when you check out.

When You Arrive at the Dispensary

Walking through the dispensary door can be a scary moment. Odds are that you’ll find a smiling, helpful face on the other side, though!

  • When you first arrive, a receptionist will check your government-issued ID. They may also scan it into their system. This is so they can track the total amount of product you’ve purchased from their company within a day. States have different limits on how much residents and out-of-state visitors can buy each day. Dispensaries can face stiff fines and even jail time if they allow customers to abuse the daily limits.
  • If you are a medical marijuana patient, you’ll also need to share your med card
  • After you check in, a budtender will be assigned to help you. If the dispensary is busy, you may have to wait a few minutes before one is available. Many dispensaries like our members Lightshade, Seed & Smith, and Smoking Gun have comfortable waiting areas with clean restrooms, cannabis periodicals, dispensary menus, and educational information to read.

A Different Shopping Experience

Your budtender will meet you in the waiting area and take you into the main dispensary area. Many states require the budtender to check your ID again, and even ask you questions to verify the ID really belongs to you. Don’t be surprised if you get asked your zip code, eye color or other details from your ID.

After your identity is confirmed, the budtender will ask what you’re looking for. This is where your list comes in handy! You might also want to mention that it’s your first dispensary visit, so that the budtender can make sure to explain the buying process as well as any limits on how much you can buy in a day.

Dispensary Dos and Don’ts

Shopping at a dispensary is different than any other retail experience. This is mostly due to laws which vary from state to state. In Colorado, for example, budtenders can hold open a jar of marijuana flower (buds) for you to smell. In California, though, the laws require flower to be packaged and sold in sealed containers. 

No matter where you’re shopping, the following list of dos and don’ts apply.

Do:

  • Bring a positive attitude and open mind. Budtenders help a lot of people who are new to cannabis. They don’t expect you to be an expert!
  • Bring your list along with your questions. While budtenders cannot provide medical advice, they can share product information and other customers’ experiences with different products.
  • Ask the budtender if they’ve tried a product that you’re curious about. You may be surprised at how candid their reviews are.
  • Ask before reaching out to touch or smell a product. 

Don’t:

  • Don’t talk about buying products for other people unless you are the designated caregiver shopping for a medical marijuana patient. State laws prohibit you from sharing your own medical marijuana with others. Recreational marijuana can be gifted to another adult within the same legal state; however, it cannot be sold, even at cost. Why is this? State regulators are concerned about products ending up on the black market or in the hands of young people.
  • Don’t ask about taking product out of state. It’s illegal to transport marijuana across state lines, since federal laws prohibit interstate transport.
  • Don’t ask for samples. Onsite consumption of products is strictly prohibited at dispensaries. 
  • Don’t feel pressured to buy something that doesn’t feel right for you. This is where your list comes in handy, keeping you on track. If the budtender is pushing a product you’re not interested in, you could say, “Thanks for that suggestion. I’ll check it out at a different time. But today, I’m looking for something else.”
  • Don’t ask for medical advice. Budtenders are prohibited from providing medical advice, and the majority do not have a medical background. However, the cannabis-trained RNs at Leaf411 are qualified to answer your medical questions!
Our Leaf411 button for budtenders to wear. It says “Not a Doctor. Ask a cannabis nurse for free at 844-Leaf411”
Our Leaf411 buttons remind budtenders and customers about our free nurse hotline.

Join us on our Facebook page to share your first dispensary visit stories or questions!

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.