There aren’t any opportunities to visit a recreational dispensary where I live – Washington, D.C. None exist so far.
You have to be a medical patient with a card and go to one of the five medical dispensaries in the District, or any of the newly opened dispensaries in Maryland.
But last year, I did meet a friend at one of the local medical dispensaries in the district – who would “gift” me some cannabis – waiting for her outside of the dispensary that happened to be across the street from one of those decrepit liquor stores so familiar in the old, beat-up part of the city where this particular dispensary was located. Two guys walked by me, one of them swigging from a recently purchased bottle wrapped up in a brown paper bag. He took a look at me: “You a cop? Huh? You’re a cop, aren’t you. What are you doing here?” Then walked away flipping me off.
My friend exited the dispensary, and another guy sitting on steps nearby yelled at her: “What do you have in the bag? Bet I can guess. Bet I can take that away from you right now.”
Wow.. all of this seemed so dangerous. Maybe it was just D.C., where city ordinances don’t allow dispensaries in the better parts of the city.. a familiar problem in other cities as well. Hmmm.
Then later, I spent some time in Denver this summer, and decided to visit Sweet Leaf in Aurora, Colorado – an organization just busted recently for selling more than allowed to undercover cops. The place looked like a problem waiting to happen.
There, in a depressed part of town with pawn shops and nail salons in a sprawling area of combined strip malls, Sweet Leaf was a hunkered down, thrown together windowless concrete building. When you walked in, you entered a dark low-ceiling room about 20 foot x 20 foot, passing a menacing looking security guy, with rows of wooden benches where a group of fellow customers sat glumly waiting for their names to be called. On one wall was a “receptionist” sitting behind a bullet-proof glass window with a slider tray who collected your ID, then directed you to sit and wait to be called.
I have not spent a lot of time in a police station. OK, once, I was put in a holding area alongside some loudly complaining drunk guy because I had an unpaid driving ticket.. got pulled over for running a stop sign during lunch and boom, arrested for the old ticket. Then ended up waiting for my boss to come bail me out. And no, that event didn’t help my performance review.
But the police station setup was the same at this dispensary – rows of benches, glum people, a sense of doom, looming potential for actual incarceration of some kind.
Then, my name got called and I walked to another door and into a brighter room, where smiling budtenders started asking me what I wanted to look at while another security guy eyed me suspiciously. I inadvertently walked behind a counter instead of in front of it, and he yelled at me – you know that “Sir!” kinda of yell that freezes you for a second, stalling your reaction time, followed by another, louder “Sir!” and a movement in your direction by a now-angry big guy wielding pepper spray.
OK, let’s all chill, I remember thinking. I turned to the budtender, said I’ll take that, one of those, two of those, here’s my cash, gotta go.. and never returned to this particular dispensary.
Where was the love, the happiness, the fun? Didn’t show up on the faces of the employees’ mug shots published a week ago who got arrested as part of an undercover investigation of the Sweet Leaf dispensaries in Denver and Aurora. Somehow the fact these guys got nailed seemed right.
Anyway, next, I went to downtown Denver, to the Native Roots dispensary. Totally different experience. Walk in, show your ID, step into a bright and cheery room where a dozen or so people were discussing what they wanted and why, then talked to a budtender who had quick and detailed answers to every question. There was probably a security guy somewhere, but I didn’t see one. And I noticed that the average age of customers here was about 45 or so – baby boomer-esque – most with that shit-eating grin on their face: “Y’mean, I can just come in and buy pot? And it’s all cool? Really?”
I went to another dispensary in downtown Denver: Rocky Mountain High. Looked like a small library when you step in. Pleasant guy at the counter asked what I wanted, looked at my ID, directed me to another room and it’s now like I am looking at fine jewelry with a knowledgeable associate. No rush, take your time.
This fall, I visited two dispensaries in Las Vegas while attending the Marijuana Business Convention – one close to the Las Vegas Convention Center (NuLeaf), and one downtown (Las Vegas ReLeaf). These were different experiences, but seemed more like a normal visit to some sort of specialty shop.
One of the budtenders at NuLeaf did bristle a bit when I asked him what product had the highest concentration of THC. His hesitation clued me in that that sort of question may be a hot button issue for dispensaries – maybe that’s what undercover cops ask, or other investigators looking to take down the industry ask, because they believe legalizing cannabis is all about how high you can get. It’s all about feeding a terrible addiction. It’s all about getting the strongest stuff of a substance that’s as bad as heroin. None of that is correct.
The point is, that question made him nervous. If you asked a guy at a micro-brewery that same question – what is your strongest beer – they would laugh, point one out, discuss how fucked up you’d get and serve it up with a wink and a smile.
Three different cities, three different experiences. My take-away is that there are still misinterpretations by dispensary business owners of what they can and should do to be both compliant with some pretty stringent rules, while offering a good, positive retail experience.
Can we get past this police-state mentality when it comes to cannabis? I mean, I have heard where some dispensary owners are required to have bullet proof glass on all windows. And bullet proof doors. People in Los Angeles have complained about dispensary regulations, saying that this is not a facility where plutonium is stored so why the over-the-top rules about what the building should look like and what they should have in place?
You go into a liquor store anywhere in this country, buy gallons of hard liquor at one time, that if you chugged it could instantly kill you – and most don’t have security guys you have to deal with, most don’t deal from behind bullet-proof glass.
That stuff is poisonous, its toxic – but hey, you want it, here you go buddy, next..
When will we get to that spot where it’s OK to smoke or eat edibles in any social setting like it is with alcohol? When will we stop using that term “users” when talking about cannabis enthusiasts? After all, I am not a beer “user” – I drink beer. I am not a wine “user” – I drink wine.
Maybe 2018 will be that year when all of the baby boomers that are quickly becoming the new customer base for cannabis – and who are the people who are the senior lawmakers or, by virtue of their years of business experience and position, can influence lawmakers – will finally figure out that enjoying cannabis is the new normal for that party experience that used to just be let’s get drunk, say random stuff, stagger home and deal with the hangover, then apologize for being stupid.
When it could be: Let’s light up, or eat an edible, talk to friends in a calm social setting, maybe gain some insight we never had before, laugh a lot, and wake up the next day remembering that as a fun time with no physical consequences.
Are we getting there? Is 2018 the year?