Back in the day if you wanted to buy weed you might have to meet someone in the parking lot of Walmart at 11:38pm and just hope they don’t rob you. But with the legalization of cannabis in many states, and even Canada as an entire country, things have changed drastically. Now, instead of sketch barns, we buy cannabis from dispensaries.

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What is a dispensary?

A marijuana dispensary is a store that legally sells cannabis products and accessories. There are two types: medical cannabis dispensaries and recreational adult-use cannabis dispensaries. In the United States, medical cannabis use in some form is legal in 33 states. Adult-use is legalized in 11 states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Outside of the U.S., cannabis is still completely illegal in the majority of countries. Canada is the only country in the world to completely legalize recreational adult-use cannabis.

Why is it called a dispensary?

The word "dispensary" has often been used to refer to locations that dispense medical supplies or medications. Considering the first cannabis retailers were medical facilities, it's no surprise that the U.S. cannabis industry would adopt "dispensary" as its preferred term. It should be noted that while "dispensary" is often the preferred term, in Canada, recreational dispensaries are often called "retailers" or "stores."

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The difference between Medical vs. Recreational Dispensaries

The difference between medical marijuana dispensaries and adult-use marijuana dispensaries comes down to the requirements for entry and purchase.

Medical Dispensaries

To buy cannabis from medical marijuana dispensaries you need a medical card. In most states, to get a medical card you need to be 18+ years of age with a written note from your doctor. Minors may obtain medical weed cards with an adult caregiver and practitioner certification from a practitioner.

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Recreational Dispensaries

To buy weed from rec dispensaries in America you just need to be 21+ years of age with valid ID. In Canada, you have to be 19 years of age or older to buy cannabis.

What you need to shop at a dispensary

There are a few things to always bring with you to shop for cannabis.

Valid identification

Bring your ID or a passport to prove that you’re of legal purchasing age. If you’re in a medical state, remember to also bring your medical card.


Due to cannabis still being federally illegal, debit and credit card companies do not allow cannabis purchases. Therefore, you must always bring cash with you to the dispensary. If you forget, stores have ATMs, but you’ll have to pay those pesky fees.

What you want

Dispensaries have walls, shelves, and cases full of cannabis products. They can be a little overwhelming, so it’s always best to have an idea of what you want before you enter. If you have absolutely no clue, the budtenders can help you find a product to try. What you want from cannabis ultimately comes down to two questions: how do you want to feel and what do you want to taste. A positive cannabis experience is all about effects and flavors, and dispensaries have all types of products that can provide either or both.

The types of cannabis products in dispensaries

The products in dispensaries are usually broken into sections based on strains type (Indica, Sativa, Hybrid) and product type. Cannabis strains are a whole world of their own, but as far as products, they have:

  • Flower (Buds, Nugs)
  • Concentrates (Dabs, Vapes)
  • Edibles (Baked goods, candies, etc.)
  • Pre-rolls (Joints, Blunts)
  • Topicals, Sublinguals, etc.

Flower and pre-rolls are great for people who want to consume cannabis in the most traditional way; concentrates provide the cleanest experience as they’ve essentially been drilled down to straight cannabinoids and terpenes; edibles are great for consumers who don’t want to inhale any smoke; and topicals, sublinguals, etc. are great for consumers who want to ease into cannabis with small doses.

How much weed can you buy from a dispensary

Each legalized state has its own set of laws around the purchase and possession of cannabis. It's best to check your local legislation for limits. In Canada, you can purchase and possess up to 30 grams of flower at one time, or the equivalent as 60 milliliters of concentrates or 30 cannabis seeds.

How to find the right dispensary for you

As everything, where we shop mostly come down to convenience: which dispensaries are the closest and have the lowest prices. While distance and price are important, choosing the right cannabis dispensary is truly about the customer experience.

Time in store

The biggest question with dispensaries is: can I get in and out? The most popular dispensaries are often the most packed, and there’s absolutely nothing worse than waiting half an hour just to grab a couple of pre-rolls.

Budtender help

If you’re unsure of what to buy, it’s important to be able to ask the budtender for help. You want your budtender to be cordial and patient because, with so many products that can make your body feel a variety of ways, you want to get it right. If the budtenders are rude, impatient, or even worse, not very knowledgeable then you should probably shop elsewhere.

Product selection

Product selection is one of the most key parts of the cannabis shopping experience. There are thousands of cannabis strains across an array of products, and a good dispensary will provide you with a diverse selection with prices that work for you. If you find a dispensary with helpful budtenders, a deep product catalog, affordable prices, and a speedy shopping process then you’ve found the right cannabis dispensary for you.