You haven’t consumed cannabis since college and the days of buying off your roommates boyfriend’s friend are long gone or… you just turned 21 and want to try cannabis. But where do you start? How do you know where to go? What to buy? How do I pay for it? 

It might be overwhelming the first time you walk into a dispensary, but we’re going to prepare you the best we can for your first experience. 

Where to Go

Let’s start with step one: the dispensary. You can do a quick internet search for “dispensaries near me,” but you’ll want to verify that the dispensary is licensed so you know you’re getting quality, safe products. Each state has different regulations for displaying licenses in dispensaries, but in California, you’ll want to look for their QR code displayed in the front window. This will give you the ability to scan directly to the BBC’s (Bureau of Cannabis Control)  website with that dispensaries licensing information. If there’s no QR code visible, you’ll want to ask for their business license and state license.  If not available, cross that dispensary of your list, as they are probably not legit.

Buying Online

Cannabis delivery is another option if you feel more comfortable not going into a dispensary, but make sure the site you’re ordering from is legit first. Licensed delivery websites will have their license number at the bottom of the page. It’s also harder to buy online if you don’t know what you want, but you can do a quick internet search for descriptions of different strains to see which ones are the most beneficial for you.

Inside the Dispensary

Once you’re in the door, there’s lots of options. You can spend an hour looking and talking and still not see every product. Luckily, the stores are often organized by product (vape cartridge, concentrates, edibles, topicals, CBD, and flower) and the budtenders are ready and willing to help. Depending on your location, there may be no samplers for you to smell, you’ll have to rely on the look and description of the product rather than the smell. 


Appearance is the first indicator of quality cannabis. If the bud looks dense and has bright, vibrant colors, chances are it’s high quality. The colors can be red-orange, purple, white, blue, and green, but you definitely want to avoid brown cannabis. If it’s brown, that means the quality is low or it’s older.


If you’re able to, make sure to stop and smell the flower! Quality cannabis will have a strong (“loud”), pleasant scent. If you can smell the pine, skunk, earthy, or lemon scents (the terpenes), the cannabis will be high quality.

You can also tell the budtender what benefits you’re looking for, and they’ll let you know which strains or products will work best for your needs.

Avoid, Avoid, Avoid

When shopping for bud, if you see mold, bugs crawling around, or spider webs, you’ll want to move on. These are signs that this product is not safe to consume. Luckily, there’s plenty of other options to choose from.

Let’s Talk Money

Before you step foot in a dispensary, check if where you’re going accepts credit or debit cards. Many dispensaries only accept cash, and have ATMs inside, but they have withdrawal charges. If you want to avoid this charge, bring cash or stop by your bank’s ATM on the way. 

As for how much cash you should bring, that depends. If you’re looking to stock up, we estimate around $200 should be a good bet, but if you’re just looking to try one or two things out, $50 should be sufficient. 

Happy bud shopping!