Your Beginner's Guide To Buying Cannabis

Lifestyle Anna Wilcox 12/5/2017
Guide to buying cannabis
If you're new to legal cannabis, the dispensary can be a bit intimidating.

Curious about cannabis but unsure of how to go about finding it?

To lend a hand, this beginner’s guide to buying cannabis breaks down the basics of what to look for and where to go.

From how to pick out the best cannabis flower to a list of states with cannabis access, here’s everything you need to know about purchasing this friendly green herb:

Where do you buy cannabis?

Unfortunately, many people around the world still lack safe access to cannabis.

Be it for medical or adult-use purposes, sale of cannabis is restricted just about everywhere except a handful of progressive regions.

Cannabis laws differ from country to country.

In the United States, laws can vary dramatically in each individual state.

Even in legal cannabis states, certain counties or municipalities can choose to ban legal cannabis sales and access points.

In others, home cultivation is banned.

In the United States, cannabis can be acquired at medical cannabis access points or purchased designated adult use dispensaries.

People under the age of 21 can acquire cannabis for medical purposes with special permission from doctors.

Those with access to adult use dispensaries can purchase cannabis at designated storefronts so long as they are 21 years and older.

For a complete list of the U.S. states with medical or adult cannabis programs, please scroll to the bottom of this article.

In other countries, like Canada, medical cannabis can be mail ordered and delivered directly to the home.

Medical cannabis is also available at select storefronts.

In the Netherlands, adults over the age of 18 can purchase cannabis seeds and other cannabis products from select coffee shops.

In Spain, cannabis can be purchased quasi-legally via social clubs.

In Uruguay, adults will be able to purchase cannabis via pharmacies.

In Israel, medical cannabis can be purchased from select access points for serious medical conditions.

In several other countries, medical cannabis can be purchased from pharmacies.

And the list goes on.

As cannabis reform continues to pick up public favor all over the world, more and more countries are offering some type of cannabis reform.

By the way, in the United States, most access points require cash payment.

What to look for when buying cannabis

For those lucky enough to be able to safely access cannabis, there are a few things to keep in mind before you buy.

Here are three tips for buying quality cannabis:

1. Find the right product

Cannabis today is a far cry from the herb popular in the 1960s and 70s.

From infused foods to oil concentrates, there are more products out there than ever before.

The first step in buying cannabis is finding the best possible product for you.

Working closely with a budtender about your needs and preferred consumption method is the best way to ensure that you’re getting the best product for you.

Dried cannabis flower is the most popular product available to consumers.

Flower is sold in gram or ounce measurements.

Cannabis in jars
Learn how to find the best cannabis product for you.

Smoking is the most common way to consume cannabis flower, but low-temperature vaporization is considered the healthiest way to inhale the herb.

Those hoping for a stronger cannabis experience tend to prefer edibles and concentrates.

However, new consumers are recommended to begin with very low dose edibles (five milligrams maximum) before working up to a larger dose over time.

The effects of edibles can take up to two hours before onset occurs, and it is recommended to refrain from consuming more cannabis-infused foods during that time period or longer.

In other words, be careful not to re-dose too soon.

Concentrates are high-potency extracts of cannabis essential oil.

While not all extracts have psychoactive effects, they are often not recommended for those just starting out with the herb.

However, many people find the concentrate experience preferable to smoking.

2. Testing results

Regardless of what product you choose, opting for cannabis that has been laboratory tested is the safest way to consume the herb.

Laboratory testing will tell you how psychoactive the product is likely to be and whether or not the product has been contaminated with molds or residual pesticides.

cannabis in a beaker
If cannabis hasn't been properly lab-tested, it may be best to avoid.

Lab testing results also allow consumers to view a cannabis samples cannabinoid profile, which is how they can make informed decisions when buying.

For example, it is important to get a sense of how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is in the product you are buying.

THC is the primary psychoactive in the cannabis plant.

It’s the compound that causes the famous psychoactive “high” the herb provides.

Today, it’s not uncommon for cannabis cultivars to feature over 20 percent THC.

Back in the 80s, the average was closer to 3.6 percent of the compound.

Today’s consumers also have the option of buying cannabis with very little THC.

Instead, many cannabis cultivars today are high in a lesser known cannabinoid called cannabidiol (CBD).

Unlike THC, CBD does not produce a psychotropic “high.”

Instead, the compound provides a sense of ease and relaxation without interfering with judgment or cognitive function.

Talking with a budtender about testing results will give you a sense of what effects any given cannabis product will provide.  

The higher the level of THC, the stronger the psychoactive experience.

The higher the levels of CBD, the less psychotropic a strain will be.

Strains high in both CBD and THC will provide a more mild experience than a THC-dominant strain.

3. The right cultivar (strain)

When walking into a dispensary or another cannabis access point, there are several different types of cannabis to choose from.

Consumers can choose between different cannabis cultivars.

These cultivars are often called “strains.”

The most scientifically correct term for a cannabis strain is “chemovar.”

However, the term “strain” is what has taken off in popular culture.

Cannabis strains are sold under different names that sometimes sound a little silly.

Consumers can choose between selections like “Pennywise”, “Blue Dream”, “OG Kush”, and “Strawberry Banana.”

Every strain has a unique personality. Depending on environmental conditions, terpene profiles, and genetics, each cannabis strain produces slightly different effects.

Most often, strains are divided into three primary groups: “indica”, “sativa”, and “hybrid.”

Believe it or not, these terms are quite controversial in the cannabis space.

Many emerging cultivators and access points are moving away from these terms when describing their cannabis products.

Generally speaking, strains classified as “indica” are thought to provide more sedative and drowsy effects.

Strains classified as “sativa” are often thought of as energizing and uplifting.

Hybrid strains, which most cultivars are these days, can be any sort of mixture between drowsy and energetic.

It’s important to point out, however, that dividing cannabis cultivars into these categories is a gross oversimplification of what the plant has to offer.

As more research on the plant emerges, it is evident that every sample is capable of producing unique effects on both the body and mind.

Low-quality vs. high-quality flower

Quality flower is well worth the extra money if you can afford it.

Not all cannabis flowers are created equal. Most access points differentiate cannabis samples between top, mid, and bottom-shelf products.

Top and mid-shelf products tend to be the most high-quality.

Bottom-shelf products tend to be lower in potency and may be dry or not completely in tact.

When trying to discern low-quality versus high-quality flower, here are a few tips to consider:

1. Smell

Smell is one of the easiest ways to discern the quality of cannabis flower.

A high-quality selection will have a notable, if not strong, fragrance.

Samples without much fragrance may be old or poorly cultivated.

Definitely trust your nose when determining whether or not a cannabis strain is right for you.

2. Dryness

Breaking up a sample that’s just a little too dry can be a real bummer for a cannabis lover.

High-quality cannabis will be slightly sticky but fairly easy to break up to use in a vaporizer or smoking device.

Cannabis should not crumble to a powder with touch. But it should be dry enough that you can break it apart with your thumb and index finger on one hand.

To keep your cannabis hydrated after purchase, store it in an airtight glass container with a 62-65 percent humidity pack.

Keep the container in a cool, dark place away from light and heat.

3. Color

From reds, purples, blues, and deep green, cannabis can come in a bouquet of colors.

However, it’s best to avoid bud that is an unattractive brown-green color.

This could be a sign that the flower has been improperly stored and has grown old and brittle.

4. Mold

Cannabis flowers have a tight bud structure that make them more prone to developing molds and mildews.

Throw away cannabis samples that show visible fuzz or signs of white powdery mildew.

Molds can also cause an unpleasant odor.

If your cannabis flower smells musty or a little off, trust your instincts.

After all, inhaling moldy products can make you more likely to have an allergy or develop a serious lung infection.

Is it legal to buy cannabis?

Some countries, like Uruguay, have legalized either medical or adult-use cannabis on a federal level.

In the United States, however, the herb remains federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Now, there is tension between the rights of individual states and the rights of the U.S. Federal Government on the topic of cannabis reform.

Voters in 29 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized at least some form of medical cannabis.

Voters in 8 states have legalized adult use cannabis, meaning that the state allows the sale, cultivation, possession, and consumption of cannabis for adults over the age of 21.

Unfortunately, even though many states now allow cannabis consumption, the federal government can still prosecute those caught growing or possessing the plant.

For this reason, it is still necessary to push for continued cannabis reform.  

Which U.S. states have legal medical or adult-use cannabis?

Which state do you live in?

The following is a list of U.S. states with legal medical or adult-use cannabis.

Medical cannabis states include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pensylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington D.C.
  • West Virginia

States with legalized adult use include:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington

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