The Old Person's Guide to Newfangled Marijuana Dispensaries

Elderly folks are flocking back to weed. Here's what they need to know.

Not long after Proposition 64 passed here in California, the news filtered through my social media feeds: “Dude, you can just buy the stuff now at a dispensary! It’s awesome!”

Like a lot of people in the AARP target audience, I haven’t been a regular weed smoker for at least two decades. If it were offered, I’d never refuse. But, the older I got, it was just easier to drink booze. The hassle inherent to copping drugs was the main factor. Don’t even get me started on “drug dealer time,” where 15 minutes can translate into “maybe two hours, maybe all day.” Plus, the few times I did buy from younger dealers, their shit was either bunk or I had to “prove” I wasn’t a cop or an informant.

So the idea of walking into a storefront, buying some guaranteed bud, and being on my way had appeal.

“I thought I needed a ‘rec card,’ ” I said. I've never liked the requirement to lie about a non-existent medical condition and register my identifying information so it's out there when law enforcement decides to roll up and bust me later.

“No, no, no. Go to WeedMaps.com and look under ‘details’ for a place that says it’s ‘Prop. 64 friendly.’ If you have a valid California ID, and you’re over 21, get over there and pick up your stash.”

On the weekend that followed the New Year, I visited my first “Prop. 64 friendly” dispensary and joined the growing ranks of older smokers. A recent study by New York University’s School of Medicine and Columbia University indicates that cannabis use among Americans aged 50 to 64 increased 60 percent between 2006 and 2013. Perhaps more incredibly, marijuana use by those over 65 increased by 250 percent.

I was being shown various Mason jars filled with stuff that all sounded like children’s breakfast cereals—Lemon Haze, Tangie, Slymer, Ninja Fruit. I felt lost and over my head and almost ran out of the place.

Upon entering the dispensary—which reminded me a lot of an old-school head shop, but with the weed out front and on display for sale—I was confronted by a vast array of different strains, none of which I had ever heard of. Back in my day, if bud had a name beyond “pot” or “weed,” it generally indicated where the stuff originated: Oaxaca, Michoacán, Thailand, Hawaii, Humboldt County, etc. Now, I was being shown various Mason jars filled with stuff that all sounded like children’s breakfast cereals—Lemon Haze, Tangie, Slymer, Ninja Fruit. I felt lost and over my head and almost ran out of the place.

Which brings up an important thing for old people to remember when visiting the local dispensary: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The person behind the counter—or budtender—won't know or care about what or how you were smoking 25 years ago. But they will know a lot more than you do about what and how to smoke now.

Keep in mind that horticulture is an art and a science. Growers have been tweaking, crossbreeding, and manipulating cannabis during all the years that you have been away. Now you are in the position of shuffling in and being the beneficiary of all their hard work and cutting-edge weed technology.

Think of the silly-sounding names as branding. Don’t get hung up on it. Goofy names aren’t exclusive to cannabis, by the way. Go down to your local home and garden center and check out the names of various peach and nectarine cultivars. Keep an open mind and don't forget your budtender is there to help.

Hog's Breath (via)

My conversation went something like this: “I don’t know what any of these names mean. I’m looking for something that’ll get me high, but not incapacitate me. What do you recommend?”

“Well, this Ninja Fruit is pretty good. Citrusy taste, said to elevate creativity and mood. Very little paranoia,” said the young lady behind the counter. "This is Slymer. A lot of people say it’s great in the bedroom."

Each choice was presented for a sniff and a visual examination along with a brief description of what the strain was known for. The Ninja Fruit seemed freshest; so I decided to go with that.

“Are you going to need a vaporizer or a pipe?” the budtender, who gave her name as Layla, asked.

“Uh, I’m a Zig-Zag, man,” I said. “Do people still use those?”

“Sure, although these RAW papers are really popular,” advised Layla. She handed over a joint rolled into a cone shape with a cardboard tip at the narrow end. It was an excellent roll. I looked at it and handed it back.

“Oh, no. That’s yours. Free for first-time customers,” Layla said.

“Okay, I’ll try the RAW papers next time.”

“You should consider a vaporizer too. They’re really efficient and will help you get the most out of your smoke. Will you need any extracts?” the budtender asked.

“Extracts? Like what?”

“Shatter, wax, honey oil. This has been really popular here lately.” She brought up a small vial of something called Durban Poison. I recognized the name from the lyrics to Humble Pie’s “30 Days In the Hole” and considered buying a gram, but figured I’d wait until my next visit to try it.

Glass cases displayed an array of various candies—the type of “edibles” that sent veteran New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd into a panic not long ago. “What’s the deal with this stuff?” I asked.

“Some people don’t like to smoke, or it’s difficult for them. This is just a different delivery system,” said Layla.

'This is the greatest thing ever!' I thought. 'I can’t wait to go back and explore this thing more deeply.'

I eyed some cannabis-infused gummi worms, then remembered a horrible experience I had in 1974 after I thought two guys in the parking lot of Angel Stadium were cops and swallowed several grams of hash. Nolan Ryan pitched a great game that night. I spent most of the game trying not to vomit and being terrified by peripheral-vision hallucinations. Baby steps, I told myself in the 2017 dispensary. I made a mental note to try the candy next time, and maybe take in a ball game.

I paid for my buds—weighed in front of me and packaged in a green plastic container reminiscent of the 35mm film canisters that were a popular carry-all for drugs back in the days when cameras used film—and went home to get high.

Image via VSCO

Layla had steered me in the right direction. The Ninja Fruit didn’t paralyze me or make me paranoid. I spent the next few hours picking a guitar on the patio and watching the sun track across the sky.

This is the greatest thing ever! I thought. I can’t wait to go back and explore this thing more deeply.

Sadly, my return visit exactly two weeks later found me confronting a door blocked with police tape and a big padlock. Apparently, the suburban city where I live decided to crack down on shops that were “Prop. 64 friendly.” The only other place in town that was selling to us old folks without rec cards was busted the next day. Other dispensaries in town were insistent upon the recommend cards and tried to steer me to a doctor who—for a fee—would write a recommendation. Since there’s nothing wrong with me medically, and because I could use that doctor's fee for whiskey down at the local bar, I was conflicted as to what to do

I did visit the helpful website MarijuanaDoctors.com, a repository of physician listings, current news, and state-by-state laws. I bookmarked the site for future reference—just in case I can’t find another “friendly” dispensary. Word is, there are a couple of shops just across the county line where city officials aren't operating under the kind of marijuana hysteria we have in my town. 

If you’re middle aged or older, and are lucky enough to live in one of the states that has legalized medical and/or recreational weed, it’s time to check out what’s available at your neighborhood dispensary. It’s relatively painless. You’ll learn some new stuff. You’ll catch a buzz.

You may have forgotten about marijuana since your high-school or college days, but it hasn’t forgotten about you.