Unwritten rules

The rules of conduct between a budtender and a patient at a dispensary are unwritten. | Photo Alexa Ace

The dispensary business model is new to all Oklahomans, but there are some expectations about how to conduct yourself when making purchases.

A patient in one of Oklahoma’s medical cannabis dispensaries is shown a jar of top-shelf flower.

Excitedly, the patient leans in and smells it. And then things get awkward. There’s an urge to touch the nuggets inside, but when it comes to the often-unwritten rules of a dispensary, that’s a no-no.

Like golf courses, bars and even airplanes, cannabis dispensaries have an etiquette all their own. Sometimes these policies are clearly outlined; other times it comes down to basic good behavior.

“Every place has their own way of doing things,” said Andrew Jackson of Top Shelf Health & Wellness in Oklahoma City. “There are always new rules and regulations, and like patients, we’re trying to dial those in and give people the best experience we can. In a lot of cases, we’re learning along with them.”

For the most part, Oklahomans have adapted, though for a new patients there are still a myriad of questions when they make their first visit to a dispensary.

One big one is, Can I touch the buds? The answer is no, for several reasons.

“You can have all the free smells you want, but you can’t touch the flower,” said Matthew Pelter of The Joint Cannabis Club in Oklahoma City. “It’s kind of an unwritten rule not to put your hands in the jar.”

“I know for a lot of people they want to squeeze the buds, but it’s a lot like handling food products with your bare hands,” said Brittany Whitaker of Steve’s Greens Cannabis + Wellness. “We use gloves when we handle flower products because we don’t want to transfer oils from skin to the flower. It can degrade the product pretty quickly if you have people constantly touching it.”

Another reason: Not everyone smokes or vapes their cannabis flower.

“That’s just not kosher,” Jackson said of touching flower in dispensary jars. “Who wants to smoke bud that has had people’s hands all over it? And you certainly wouldn’t want to cook with it.”

Tipping is another common etiquette question. How much? Is it bad form not to tip? Most dispensaries have a jar next on the counter near the cash register.

Gratuities aren’t expected or required, but they are appreciated.

“I think that’s really subjective,” Pelter said. “It’s entirely dependent on the patient. We’ve been to other states where everyone tips. We try to focus on superior service and genetics, and if people have a good experience, they will tip. That’s part of American culture in general. Our budtenders do pretty well with tips.”

Some dispensaries put more emphasis on tipping than others.

“We definitely have a tip jar, but it’s not labeled,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty unobtrusive. If they feel like they got exceptional service and if they want to let them know they did a good job, we’re definitely not opposed to it.”

How much to tip is subjective. And rules that apply in other spaces don’t necessarily apply in a medical cannabis dispensary.

“It’s a lot like a bartender or server,” Whitaker said. “We offer a service, and we appreciate it when patients tip. But there’s no general rule. It’s not like a restaurant where it’s 15 or 20 percent.”

Pelter agreed.

“It’s a nice bonus, but there are zero expectations,” he said. “A lot of people will put in a couple of bucks or their loose change. We’ve had some patients who will tip $20. But regardless, it all adds up.”

Foot traffic in dispensaries can also add up, especially at peak times. On weekdays, lunchtime is one part of the day where there might be a wait. After 5 p.m. can also be a busy time. While Oklahomans have a reputation for friendliness, too many people in a small space can make for suboptimal experiences. Some dispensaries have only room enough to handle two or three patients at a time.

“Our store is pretty open, but one thing I’ve seen is someone will be at the counter, looking at something, and another will walk right up next to them and start looking at what the other person is interested in,” Jackson said. “They sort of crowd the other person. I don’t think anyone likes that.”

Another common etiquette mistake is refusing to show identification along with an Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority card. Some patients have privacy concerns, while others don’t want the added delay or don’t have their ID on them.

“Some patients don’t want to show their driver’s license because they don’t want us to scan it,” Whitaker said. “That’s really one of the biggest things people get frustrated with.”

Pelter said once patients understand the process with IDs, they’re typically more understanding.

Another common etiquette question is, Can I bring my husband/wife/son/aunt/nephew who doesn’t have a medical card into a dispensary with me?

“We don’t allow anyone on the floor who doesn’t have a medical card,” Pelter said. “That’s a pretty standard rule everywhere. You just can’t do it.”

But those people don’t have to wait outside or sit in the car either.

“They can come in the lobby, but we can’t have them inside the dispensary,” Whitaker said.

Sometimes those who have little money to spend can be intimidated. How much should a patient buy at a dispensary, and are they wasting a budtender’s time if they buy just one gram?

The official answer is no. While dispensaries are in the business of making money, they also provide a service. Some patients can only afford to buy limited quantities.

“It’s absolutely fine to buy small amounts,” Jackson said. “Patients come from all backgrounds and financial means. But if someone wants just a gram, we sell it to them. And in fact, for people just starting out, that’s actually a good way to go, buying small amounts at a time to see what works for them.”

But for the most part, patients and dispensary staff alike are navigating their way through the fledgling industry.

“Oklahomans as a people are really much more patient and tolerant than other states that I’ve visited,” Pelter said. “It’s been a really cool experience, and I think for the most part, people are getting into the flow of going to the dispensary and getting what they like while also having a cool experience in a cool atmosphere.”

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