Legal vs. Illegal Dispensaries

The Premise

In less than 6 months, we as a Cannabis community will greet the year 2020. Progress has been made and with Illinois becoming the 11th state to honor recreational Cannabis to consumers 21 and older, I thought it’d be timely to ink in some of my own personal dispensary journeys before state laws and consumer tastes augment this retail landscape again.

Do note, my notes from the perspective of a recreational user in California.

TLDR? See The Legal Checklist.

The Legal Dispensary

This retailer is easy to find. You can connect the dots fairly easily between the Weed Maps final pin drop and your frame of reference once you step out of your vehicle.

Next, the dispensary isn’t shy. Depending on their style, the venue is simply rocking its personality. They don’t hide the fact that they are a dispensary. The scent might even be infectious. Green gold is upon you.

You’ve checked in at the front with private security, passed your ID to the customer service agent for a quick registration into their system and finally you’re in.

Now the fun begins.

I’ve witnessed quite a few interesting setups on how to actually get product in your hand.

Some dispensaries funnel you in through a single line. Simply wait your turn and then you’re engaged 1:1 with a budtender grooming through their entire menu of goods.

I’ve also experienced dispensaries who follow a self service approach. Pre-packaged flower, edibles, etc. are at the ready. Simply go to the display, evaluate the sample and when you’ve decided, just take what’s available.

Some have even gone full boutique with the retail experience (see Kings Crew out of Long Beach, CA). Allowing you to see what’s on display and when you’re ready to buy, a few taps from customer service’s iPad automagically gets your product to the front of the cashier.


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All of these aforementioned experiences are awesome.

Deals are abundant. Are you a first time buyer at their location? You might just strike one based on that alone. Is your phone readily available? There might be a deal attached for sending them a shout out on social media. Cannabis happy hour? Absolutely. Some locations specify a time and day for what products apply.

Are you ready to cash out? I’ve experienced both cash only and credit card payment experiences. Nothing novel really except to say that there are some additional steps if doing it by credit card. A text message to verify the purchase, etc. No big deal. To me, they’re simply flexing tech muscle and that’s cool.

Finally, your purchase gets plopped in a bag and you might get a dispensary sticker or two if you feel like repping their store.

Congrats, you did it! Time to puff.

The Illegal Dispensary

Now here’s where things turn mildly into The Upside Down.

First things first, when you find them on Weed Maps but then…you don’t. And then it pops back up again in a slightly different location. Similar staff, different name.

How about when you flashback to that time you went to that one place only to find out the next day it vanished into thin air.

Or how about this, after you park your car, how easy was it to find their front door?

Is any of this an illusion? No. All signs likely mean that the dispensary was not what it seems. But beyond that what else could earmark that a dispensary could be illegal?

After struggling to find the door, the scent is once again abundant and you can feel that green gold is near. You’ve finally found the door. Good job.

Now that you’re in, a couple things should immediately be noted. Cameras aren’t allowed and they constantly remind you of that with signage, EVERYWHERE.  Also, pay attention to customer service. Are they hard pressed, rushed or in a hurry? That expedited service is not necessarily proof but in all likely cases the sales rep is looking to close fast and not make small talk. Get you in. Get you out.

Next and in my opinion the most crucial, look at the almighty flower. In my opinion, this will always be the most critical look when dealing with a Cannabis retailer. A couple of things I’ve seen with consistency is that their products are usually split in gram increments only. It’s faster math for both you and them. Mason jars are abundant.

Should you choose a flower, pay attention. Is the flower packed pre-packed in proprietary retail packaging or is it cut from the mason jar and dropped into a film canister? If you’re getting a film canister to wrap your final product then it didn’t enter that retailer through legal supply channels.

Nothing is labeled in terms of its origin, distributor, government warning, license numbers, etc.

Obviously, you’re still going to buy it. You’ve made it this far. When you’re ready to cash out hold on to two mental notes: inquire if the product(s) you buy is the final price or if there’s additional sales tax afterwards. If what you see is what you get, tax is bypassed. Also, do they offer the optional receipt for said purchase? If no, well then take that as a final nail in the coffin.


I’m not here to trash these businesses as eery or cryptic. Frankly, the more I learn about this space the more I realize the push and pull of the broader Cannabis market and the gray area it generate. This story being one of them. They’ve spawned such retail experiences due to gaps in the open market. Plain and simple.

I’ve personally visited both but would definitely tend to stick to the legal players in the open market for one reason only. Supply chain governance is only going to get better. And I’d rather pay a premium for a product that’s been through some governance versus consuming something that didn’t go through proper quality assurance channels.

The Legal Checklist

✅Was it easy to find using Weed Maps?

✅Is the retailer camera friendly?

✅Is flower pre-packed in retail packaging rather than film canisters?

✅Can you get a receipt?

✅(BONUS) Alternative forms of payment are accepted including Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express.

Have you experienced both sides of Cannabis retail? If so, comment below and share your experience. I’d be happy to see others shed insight.



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