How to buy legal weed / A guide to recreational cannabis stores

The days of meeting shady dealers in a back alley, or their smoky apartments are over. 
Instead, we can now find properly established cannabis stores at nearly any corner.

According to a review by Cannabis Benchmarks there have been 2046 licensed cannabis retailers in Canada as of May 2021, and the number of stores is still increasing.

Being confronted with so many different options to shop from can be overwhelming. That's why this article helps you discover how these stores operate and give you some tips for your next cannabis purchase.

No more dealers

How do you purchase from a cannabis store?

Buying cannabis from a licensed retailer works pretty much the same way as buying alcohol from a liquor store.

You just need to be of the legal age that your province set for purchasing recreational cannabis, provide adequate ID, et voila, you can buy up to 30g of dried cannabis or any other product type as long as the equivalent doesn’t exceed the 30g limit.

Note that the cannabis equivalences are a little off when it comes to drinks. Therefore, you can only purchase five cannabis beverages at a time. However, many industry professionals and consumers find this regulation inadequate and hope that the government will change this in the future.

Lastly, if you don’t want to walk into a store, you can also order your cannabis online. Depending on where you live, you can do so by ordering from either a private or government-run delivery service.

Man checking IDs

What type of products can you purchase?

From regular dried flowers to pre-rolls, over to beverages, creams, bath bombs and topicals. The recreational cannabis industry offers a huge variety of products with different applications. 

But while the stores have such a vast vertical product variety, there’s only a small horizontal variety between them. That is because all of the licensed retailers have to purchase from the same source, which is a government-operated cannabis distribution branch. 

Only these provincial branches have the monopoly on deciding about the products that will be available in the entire province, enabling the private retailers to acquire only regulated amounts of product from a limited catalogue. For that reason, you’ll mostly end up finding the same brands and products in each of the stores you go to. The only exception would be when there’s a product line with limited quantities. In that case, you’ll find these products only at those private retailers that were fast enough to place their order before it was all gone.

Mood Cannabis Nanaimo

(Various cannabis products in the cabinets at Mood Cannabis in Nanaimo)

What is the difference between the retailers?

So, if every cannabis store sells the same products, what’s the difference between the hundreds of different storefronts? 

Firstly, the cannabis distribution branches also have their own retail front. So, there are private and government-operated stores. And because they are the product distributor of all stores, the government retailers usually sell their products for the lowest prices.

Their stores have clean, modern store layouts, in which they provide their customers with bud pods to smell and observe the products, tablets to inquire more information about them, and big flat screens to explore their entire menu.

The only downside of these stores is that they are highly regulated, causing them to see cannabis from a very secure and monitored perspective. As a result, their budtenders can’t entice anyone to consume cannabis or be biased towards any specific brands or products which is making it harder for them to fully connect with their customers.

Private retailers, on the other hand, have the opportunity to freely unfold their creativity as long as they’re sticking to the retail cannabis regulation under federal and provincial laws. 

Consequently, the stores that are privately owned range widely in the ways they operate and brand themselves. Between giant stores that are covered in plants and use a hydraulic tube system that shoots the products right to the cashiers, to tiny stores that are only the size of a tiny storage room, the store layouts are quite diverse, making every visit to a new location unique. 

However, what really makes a store stand out from its competitors are its story and its staff.

While some retailers are built as cooperate companies that are solely focused on creating revenue, others are trying to create an authentic brand that educates its consumers and gives back to the community.

But, what’s most essential for you as a customer and the reputation of a retail cannabis store are its budtenders. 

Vibes Cannabis in Calgary

(A comfortable CBD corner at Vibes Cannabis in Alberta)

What is a Budtender?

A budtender is a trained cannabis consultant who’s there to answer any questions you may have and guide you towards the products that will most likely work best for you. 

Professional budtenders are able to answer any questions on how cannabis works, the variation between all of their products, and the differences between the licensed producers on the market. They are also there for you if you need a guide to find a product that may work for you. Unfortunately, they’re prohibited to make any medical claims so don’t expect to go to a recreational cannabis store to get proper medicine to help with your pains or insomnia. 

However, what the budtenders can do is to provide you with their personal experiences, disclose everything they know about the potential effects of their products, and suggest a starting dose for you. Passionate budtenders live to educate customers and help destigmatize the cannabis plant. It’s their job to talk cannabis and try various products, so if anyone can give you proper guidance on your purchase, it’s them. 

The budtenders at Stick and Stone are assessing their cannabis

 (The budtenders at Stick & Stone in Fernie assess their products through our microscopes)

How to talk to a Budtender?

When you talk to a budtender, it’s essential to trust and be clear with them.

Most of them chose to work in this field because they’re passionate and knowledgeable about the cannabis plant, so it’s in their best interest that what they recommend actually works for you.

That’s why it’s so important, to be honest with them. To make proper recommendations, the budtenders need to understand you, the products you like or the effects you’re looking for. So, be fully honest, even letting them know if you didn’t like what they recommended you the last time. Especially if you’re buying cannabis for the very first time, you should let them know that immediately so they can ensure to recommend you something milder to set you up for a great experience. 

Every single detail about you, your tolerance, your preferences and the ways you want to feel after consuming a cannabis product is an essential piece of information that will help the budtenders to make greater recommendations for you. 

In summary

Even though the recreational cannabis system isn't completely perfect yet, we can be very grateful that Canada established such a unique cannabis industry over the last three years. 

It's astonishing how we went from secretly buying weed on the streets to walking into Apple-like cannabis boutiques where trained staff can help us make the right purchasing decision out of hundreds of products. 

So, as long as you keep your ID with you and be open with the budtenders, you'll certainly have a good time exploring the recreational cannabis industry. 

Lastly, please send us any questions you may have through either the comment section below or by texting us on Social Media. We're always looking forward to talking cannabis with you.

About Tom Rothmeier