Reason for Reviewing Dispensaries / Criteria for Reviews
As my husband (Dr. Daniel) and I built AR MMJ Cards, it was always our intention to provide medical marijuana patients in Arkansas two things; a simple, cost-effective certification service and plenty of accessible information to aid in making informed decisions about their individual cannabis journey.
Dr. Daniel spends countless hours immersing himself in the science behind the utility of medical cannabis and then translates that information into a medium that anyone can understand. However, from a patient standpoint, knowledge of the science behind the high is only one side of the coin; it’s also crucially important to know where to get your medicine.
We won’t tell you where to go buy your MMJ but we’ll let you know what you can expect from all of the dispensaries we’ve visited. Furthermore, as you read our criteria for reviews, you’re likely find that you could just as easily review these dispensaries yourself. The aim of this post not only informs the patient as to what we are looking for in a dispensary and why, but also gives patients some things to think about the next time they’re in their local dispensary.
Choosing Criteria for Dispensary Reviews
The first and most important thing I look for in a dispensary is how they store their product. The reason product storage is the most important is quite basic: the storage determines the quality of the product and the life of quality viability, i.e. how long it will remain at that quality.
We operate under the assumption that the most important thing to a patient is receiving the highest quality product for their dollar, which is why product storage is the most heavily weighted criteria. Product storage is worth exactly twice as much as the other two criteria when determining our overall rating for a dispensary.
As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, ideally cannabis flower (including CBD flower) should be stored in a cool, dark location, lacking exposure to air.
From a practical standpoint, I am primarily checking for an overall lack of light, heat, and air. Some dispensaries use vacuum-sealed, heavy-weight bags with a zip closure, and those are really excellent for storage. Personally, I seek out strains that come in those bags.
When you read a label on the product you buy from a dispensary, there is usually a percentage for THC and sometimes CBD. A few places include percentages of other compounds like terpenes, but THC and CBD are most commonly found on the package. These products are tested and labelled before the dispensary receives them. That means, that was the percentage of THC and CBD before it arrived at the dispensary.
Even when stored correctly, terpenes deteriorate over time, and the quality of the product will decline. If you notice a dispensary runs out of strains periodically, and won’t have it for a few days, this is actually a good sign. It may indicate that they have good product turnover and are able to sellout before things sit on the shelf for too long.
Dispensaries that bulk order products and hold on to them for too long, may end up selling a much lower quality product with a label that no longer represents the product’s accurate percentages. Be sure to check the packaged and tested dates to ensure the product isn’t old before you buy it.
Problems with Deli-Style
Deli-Style dispensaries keep the bulk flower products in a large containers separated by cultivar. If a patient wants to inspect the product closer, the budtender will open the container and the patient can look at and smell the product. The patient can select the amount they desire and the tender will measure out that amount on the scale and seal package it there on the spot.
Deli-style dispensaries are going to have an uphill battle against prepackaged products for a number of reasons. The perpetual burping (opening and releasing terpenes) that naturally comes with deli-style dispensaries will inevitably lead to oxidation of the flower. Furthermore, the repeated physical manipulation of flower disturbs the delicate and prized trichomes on their marijuana flower bract. To put it simply, oxidized marijuana flower is less effective at all of its function. Oxidation only requires the presence of oxygen to occur and doesn’t require any additional heat (which would be combustion). This is why deli-style dispensaries automatically receive a reduced product storage score.
In deli-style dispensaries, I’d next look to see where they’re storing their product. If it’s a deli-dispensary that stores its flower in an amber glass jars, they’re protecting the terpenes from the light which would help slow the deterioration. If their jars are clear glass (which is less ideal), I’d check to see if they’re stored in a dark area behind the counter or if they’re exposed to plenty of light, which would burn up scenery experience.
Lastly, I check for the temperature of the room. It’s better if the room where the bud-tenders and product are stored is kept cool.
Personally, I’d never recommend visiting a deli-style dispensary because there really isn’t any way to calculate what you are getting. The bud in those jars deteriorates at all kinds of different rates, and there isn’t an effective way to track that. When you have a big jar of weed, there are too many unknowns for the customer. For example; When was that jar filled? Do they empty the jar before refilling it, or add new flower to what’s already in the jar? How many times a day do they open it? How much time does it spend open?
There are so many more unknowable questions that come with this type of dispensary. I think one of the greatest things about buying bud from a dispensary is the regulation. Regulated growing, regulated drying, regulated burping, and measured THC content. If you buy that carefully cultivated bud from someone who cannot guarantee good care for their product to ensure quality longevity, then what was the point of even printing that cultivar’s testing label and sticking it on the product?
If you’re a dispensary that wants to let customers open and smell all of the products before they choose, then you should really have a small amount of each strain set aside for smelling purposes only, and not for sale. I personally do not want to pay for something that 30 strangers have stuck their nose in and inhaled the terpenes and trichomes that I wanted to smoke.
NOTE: Medical Marijuana in Arkansas has a 12% sales tax. That 12% goes directly to the state of Arkansas. The dispensaries get to keep the amount that is listed before tax. If you order online, add an additional 12% to your total to get a very close approximation to your actual price.
The pricing score is really straight forward. I look at the strains they have, and compare what they are selling a particular strain from a particular cultivar for, with what other dispensaries are selling that same strain from that same cultivar.
For example, I love mimosa, so I might try Osage Creek’s Mimosa from 5 different dispensaries and see what each dispensary is selling it for. This is how I create my baseline for product price.
I’d then check for product variety. Some places have strains from extremely high prices to extremely low, while other places don’t. I like to see a variety. I know some patients that want to immerse themselves in cannabis culture and try every bit of “designer” bud ever cultivated, while others may just want a reliable source for their medicine at a price they can afford. Ideally, a dispensary would have an option for each type of patient.
Next, I check to see what increments are sold. A lot of places start at an eighth and go up from there, but I prefer a dispensary to have grams available. If someone were in a pinch and just wanted a little bit, or if someone wanted to test out a small amount of many strains, it would be nice to have a gram option.
The one major advantage that a deli-style dispensary has in the pricing section is that they can measure out any amount, so you could potentially spend less at one time.
Pricing wasn’t difficult to decide how to score, but it has caused a small amount of confusion with some of our patients. I score these prices on how they compare with the Arkansas market for medical marijuana. We had one patient write us because we gave the ReLeaf Center four stars for pricing, but he felt that $30 – $40 (after taxes) for an eighth was a lot and wanted to know why we scored them that way.
I love math, so naturally I worked out my calculation to show him how you get more for what you pay when you purchase more at once. We compared the price for an eighth ounce of Gorilla Glue from a deli-dispensary that he’d been to with the price The ReLeaf Center was selling at, and we saved a little more than $5/gram.
I always caution people to look at what you bought and then what you paid, not just what you paid. If you spend $15 three times on a gram, then you’ve spent $45 on 3 grams. If you buy an eighth for $35, then you’ve spent $35 on 3.5 grams. You get a half gram more, for $10 less.
Sometimes I’ll hear things like, “I always spend more when I go to…” wherever vs. wherever. I always have to ask what they mean when they say that because a lot of the time the case is actually that they bought a $15 gram from one place and a $40 eighth from somewhere else, which made the person feel like they spent more. In fact, $40 for 3.5 grams comes out to a little less than $11.50/gram.
Dispensaries that sell eighths or more at once will very likely give you a better value for what you buy, but you’ll be unlikely to be able to get something for less than $30 – $40 out the door.
Wait & Staff
Our final criteria is meant to rate the feel of a dispensary. The first part of this is wait time. If you’re ready to get your medicine and you drive to a dispensary geared up and excited, then have to wait hours, it’s highly unpleasant.
You can end up waiting a very long time if dispensaries are understaffed or their staff isn’t efficient at getting people in and out. As far as the wait, I generally try to arrive at a dispensary at their peak volume hours and see how long it takes me to get in and out.
The second part of this criteria is the staff. The staff at a dispensary can really make or break the experience. The member of the staff I am most heavily judging is the security guard.
This is because the security guard is the first person you see when you arrive at a dispensary. They’ll be responsible for informing you about their dispensary practices, and they generally carry a gun. If this person is aggressive or rude, they can really dampen the experience.
Security staff should always be positive and friendly. They should greet you before you greet them, and they should offer helpful information or instruction right away. If it’s your first time to a dispensary, you should be able to step out of your vehicle and be pleasantly walked through what to do next by a kind personality. Security guards set the feel for the entire dispensary because they are the gate keepers.
Next, I’m looking at the staff inside. I like to ask questions and get a feel for their general knowledge. I generally visit each dispensary a few times, and try to talk to all of the staff members I can. It’s a nice touch when they know what they are talking about, but far more than that, I am checking to see what kind of attitude they have.
Are they friendly? Are they happy to help? Are they annoyed? Are they in a rush? Can they recommend strains? Can they recommend new products for you?
Some dispensaries take time and effort to ensure their staff is helpful to the customers, while other dispensaries are just trying to fill their dispensary with bodies so they can get them in and out.
The wait & staff score is by far the most subjective, but important nonetheless. A bad bud tender is a little unpleasant, but a bad security guard could make you never want to come again. The wait seems universal to me however; no one wants to wait a long time once they’re ready to make a purchase.
I intend to help patients know what they can expect wherever they go. I believe that the process of obtaining medical marijuana should be a pleasant, streamlined process. We continuously strive to make our end (medical certifications) easier and more streamlined, and I hope that by reviewing these dispensaries, we can help make the other end a little easier and pleasant too.
Be sure to stay tune this summer for our coming dispensary review tour! Dr. Daniel and I will be traveling around to visit all of the dispensaries in Arkansas, one area at a time, and reviewing them for our patients’ convenience!