The look and feel of a dispensary can change how cannabis consumers — especially first timers — think of the plant.
While many dispensaries still don Bob Marley posters, or appear as discrete hole-in-the-wall operations off shady side streets, the rapidly expanding legalization movement is also changing how people go about buying their weed. Dispensaries more and more are coming to accommodate novice cannabis consumers or elderly medical marijuana patients, who may have otherwise feared the stigma of walking into a pot shop. Today’s dispensaries are coming to feel more often like pharmacies or high-end retailers, rather than fronts for selling “drugs.”
In New York state, for example, where medical marijuana patients can qualify only after proving to suffer from one of small handful of conditions, dispensaries look and feel like pharmacies. Bud tenders look like pharmacists, rather than pierced or tatted stoners, while the environment is clean and sterile. In a state where both cannabis flower and edibles are outlawed from the medical marijuana program, the dispensaries reflect the restrictive nature of New York’s cannabis law.
But even in states like California, where a lenient medical marijuana program has thrived for now over 20 years, dispensaries are also stepping up their game.
For instance, ShowGrow in downtown Los Angeles serves as a dispensary/art gallery, while 99 High Tide Collective in Malibu also features spiritually inspired paintings behind glass countertops displaying an array of cannabis products.
In San Francisco, Barbary Coast resembles a 1920s hotel lobby, including a lounge with leather couches and Persian carpets. “We wanted to set up something that you could bring your mother to and be comfortable,” says Jesse Henry, general manager at Barbary Coast.
It’s also important that the bud tenders be knowledgeable about the products they’re selling. Especially for new cannabis consumers or patients with serious conditions, who don’t know the products and marketplace that well, a bud tender’s advice is invaluable in helping customers pick out the right weed for their needs. “When patients come in, we just ask how they are and how they’re feeling today. Oftentimes, it’s people who are dealing with pain issues, trouble sleeping, nervousness issues,” says Henry. “And we offer a recommendation.”
And for those who would rather get a one-on-one, personalized recommendation, groups like Cannabis Feminist are dismantling the dispensary model altogether, instead selling brands at pop-up shop bake sales and during individualized consultations. The bottom line is that consumers want advice on products from people who are educated about them. And for the canna-curious, professional, clean, and friendly environments where cannabis is sold helps remove the stigma and elevate the status of a plant, with an otherwise underground profile.