As I walked into a wood-trimmed Banana Republic-looking shop in Denver a few years ago, my brain registered a skunky floral scent.
Oh my God — I’m in a weed store.
It’s probably a combination of all the funny stoner movies I saw growing up, the “just say no” classes we were forced to sit through, and the possession busts I’d seen, but a part of me couldn’t believe they were selling pot in a store, all nonchalantly, as if it were sweaters and jeans. The guy behind the counter smiled over a glass-cased shelf of green buds and some other mysterious-looking products that I couldn’t identify but assumed were some exotic forms of marijuana.
There were many more choices than I realized. I was clearly out of my depth.
If you’ve never bought legal pot, visiting one of Massachusetts’s 22 recreational cannabis stores for the first time can feel surreal and pretty cool, but also maybe a little intimidating.
Hundreds of thousands of folks from all over the East Coast — many first-timers — have flocked to the state’s retail outlets since they started opening in November of last year, buying a staggering $291 million worth of products.
From fears of looking stupid to fears of getting too high, pot shoppers seem to share a few common concerns. Deep breaths, people — this guide will have you shopping for pot like an old hand.
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Before You Go
First, figure out which shop you want to visit, and check out its website. One store, Garden Remedies in Newton, requires customers to book appointments. Nearly all shops allow ordering ahead online, so when you arrive, you might be able to skip the line, pick up your stuff, and be on your mellow way.
Peruse the online menu for the store you plan to visit, but make sure you’re looking at the recreational section. Certain products are available only to people with medical cards.
If you’re a newbie, it’s probably a good idea to think through what kind of experience you want so the staff can guide you. Do you want to make folding laundry or mopping the kitchen slightly more fun? Do you want to watch a comedy and perhaps laugh a bit harder? Maybe you need something before bed to help wind down after work?
Or perhaps you’re interested in certain medical benefits associated with marijuana? If so, consider seeing a cannabis-specialist clinician who can advise you on the best course of action. Some of the most common conditions for which people report finding relief from using cannabis are insomnia, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, according to Dr. Jordan Tishler, a physician who runs InhaleMD, a private practice specializing in cannabis therapies.
Each store carries a variety of strains and combinations of strains with quirky names such as Girl Scout Cookies, Ninja Fruit, and Black Triangle Kush. Ask your budtender for a recommendation based on the sensation you’re looking for. You can also check out strain reviews on the cannabis website Leafly.
These are for relaxation. Sometimes called “in-da-couch,” they’re often described as calming, soothing, pain relieving, and good for nighttime or bedtime. But be careful – the couch thing is real. Gravity can start to feel extra strong. In other words, you might not want to smoke an indica strain before going to a party.
This popular strain elicits an amplified, uplifted, cerebral sensation. While no cannabis acts as a stimulant, some people report that they find the sativa high more energizing than indica’s. It can sometimes make your heart feel as if it’s beating a bit faster, and, if overdone, can make some people more anxious or paranoid.
These are a mixture of indica and sativa, sometimes leaning more toward one than the other and producing a combination effect.
If you don’t really want to get high but would like to feel a slight lift, ask about strains that are high in CBD (cannabidiol). CBD can counteract some of the effects of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in pot) and has been linked to medicinal benefits like anxiety relief. Such products may be labeled 1:1, for their ratio of CBD to THC.
The wide variety of options can feel daunting, even for seasoned consumers. To keep it simple, remember that you have two main decisions to make — which strain you’d like to try and which delivery method is best for you.
Note: We’ve listed typical prices here, but what you’ll pay varies depending on quantity, quality, and source.
Let’s start with the raw green buds that we all know as pot. Dispensaries call it “flower” because that’s what it is: the flowers that female cannabis plants produce for pollination and reproduction. (Nature!) One key benefit of flower is that there are plenty of options when choosing a strain.
Cost: $50 for an “eighth,” or one-eighth of an ounce, or seven half-gram joints
These are pre-rolled joints of different types of flower. You may not have as many choices as you would when buying loose flower, but they’re convenient and ready to be sparked up at a moment’s notice.
Cost: $12 for one .75-gram joint
Often called vapes or vape pens, they are one of the most popular delivery methods, typically used with a concentrated oil that comes in varying strengths (ask your budtender to help you pick the strength that’s right for you). Vapes have the benefit of being discreet, emitting a relatively weak wisp of vapor and a mild smell that fades quickly. When vaping, it takes just a few seconds to experience the effect, and it feels less harsh on the throat and lungs than smoking flower.
The oils can be highly potent, so even a single toke can be a lot for an inexperienced consumer. My advice? Start with a tiny hit and give it a few minutes. To vape oil, you’ll need either a disposable vape pen that comes with a pre-filled cartridge and a built-in battery or a rechargeable battery unit that requires a separate cartridge. Most pot shops sell the battery unit, but if yours doesn’t, any traditional smoke shop can help you.
Cost (disposable vape pen): $40 for .3 gram, or 60 to 100 puffs
Cost (vape cartridges with concentrated marijuana oil): $60 for .5 gram, or about 80 to 150 puffs
Cost (battery unit for use with vape cartridges): $20
These devices vaporize flower and are expensive but allow smokers a choice of less potent marijuana with more potentially beneficial compounds.
Edibles and Pills
While these products are discreet and can be yummy, they can also be quite easy to overdo. By law, each package must contain a total of no more than 100 milligrams of THC, portioned into 5 milligram serving sizes. For example, a chocolate bar can contain 20 5-milligram squares. While not a large dose, 5 milligrams still may be too much for beginners. I suggest that beginners eat half an edible to start. Note that edibles can take 45 minutes to two hours to take effect, and how they affect you can depend on what you’ve eaten recently, how much you ate, and your body weight. I can’t stress this enough: Taking too much feels awful — the room may spin, your ears could ring, and you may suffer terrible anxiety, among other scary symptoms. Worse yet, the high can last for hours. Take the advice of Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a cannabis specialist and primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital: “Edibles are for experts, not for novices.”
Cost: $20 for 100 milligrams
Sublingual (Under-the-Tongue) Tinctures
A faster alternative to edibles (they’re absorbed directly through the mouth), these liquids take effect about 15 minutes after being dropped under your tongue. Grinspoon recommends that first-timers start with one drop per day for a week or several days, then increase to two drops per day the following week, to find the right dosage.
Cost: $70 for 480 milligrams, or 480 droplets, of tincture; $40 for 10 10-milligram mints
Topical Salves and Creams
These are nonpsychoactive ways to relieve pain that some people swear by. They may contain THC or CBD, a compound that has been associated with medicinal benefits and doesn’t get you high. THC doesn’t enter the bloodstream this way, so these products won’t get you high.
Cost: $30 for a 4-ounce bottle of lotion
Shatter, Wax, Dabs, and Butter
Probably too strong for the weekend toker, these are highly concentrated extracts of cannabis that are typically smoked using a specialized glass water pipe called a dab rig.
Cost: $50 per gram
Beat the Lines
Lines can last for hours on weekends at some shops, but if you’re smart, you can save yourself a lot of time.
1. If you already know what you want, order online for pickup when you arrive.
2. Check the store’s Twitter and Facebook feeds to see if it posts wait times.
3. Go at odd hours during the week or workday. Try to avoid Friday nights and Saturdays, which tend to be busiest.
Before entering the store, your ID will be checked and probably scanned to verify that you’re over 21. Certain stores hold on to some of your information for internal use — such as determining where their customers are coming from — while others don’t keep it.
Sorry, No Credit
You’ll need cash or a debit card (and your PIN) to buy pot, although most stores have an ATM on site or nearby. Traditional credit cards aren’t accepted because pot is illegal at the federal level, making credit card companies reluctant to get involved. If bringing cash, remember to factor in the 20 percent tax — 17 percent to the state, and 3 percent to local government. And just a warning: Debit card transactions are usually run as “cashless ATMs,” so you may be charged a $3 to $3.50 service fee. Lastly, don’t forget to bring your government-issued ID to show you’re at least 21 years old.
Is the Pot Organic?
Yes! Massachusetts has a hard-line ban on pesticides — among the strictest out of the seven states with pot stores for recreational use. Before selling its products, each producer must pay for a representative sample to be lab tested for potency, mold, mildew, pesticides, and other contaminants.
Where Was It Grown?
Each product must originate and be produced within the state. Regulators track each plant from seed to sale to prevent anything from ending up on the black market. Most stores have their own grow facilities in the state, and those that don’t buy wholesale from other in-state cultivators.
Should I Get a Medical Card?
Between the state application and the doctor’s appointment, getting a medical card can cost a few hundred dollars, but it can save you money in the long run. That’s because you won’t be taxed the 20 percent that the state and local government collect from recreational purchases. (Plus, many stores offer further discounts to medical users.)
Naomi Martin is a Globe cannabis reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @NaomiMartin.