Medical Cannabis Etiquette 101 

Ten rules of the club.

Thousands of people are thought to become qualified medical cannabis patients each month in California, joining an estimated 500,000 in the state with doctors' recommendations for the rehabilitated herbal remedy. Clubs say they're seeing more women and patients now range from financial-district patrons to the homeless on Telegraph. As the industry transitions from quasi-speakeasy to chain bank, there are a lot of new rules to follow. Legalization Nation polled some of the leadership at leading Bay Area dispensaries in a look at norms in the fast-changing climate.

1) Have some standards.

Do some research online and note dispensary ratings. Read reviews and ask for personal references. Expect a high quality of service, including cleanliness, knowledgeable and friendly staff, and a positive vibe. Jennifer Thompson, ombudsman for Oakland's Harborside Health Center, said she sees tense, fearful newcomers every day who've had a bad experience at another club, or in the black market. If it feels sketchy, take your business elsewhere. It's a buyer's market.

2) Have ID.

Most dispensaries will ask for a valid state identification and a valid doctor's recommendation before you're allowed in the door. Berkeley Patient's Care Collective owner David Bowers said that means the recommendation must be current. A specialist can write a recommendation for cannabis under California state law for "cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief." They usually last a year. Thompson said out-of-state patients can now access Harborside with a recommendation from a California physician.

3) Project the right attitude.

Don't be furtive. Be polite. Look people in the eyes. Establish trust by learning names. Think of it like a bank or a pharmacy. Kelsey Schnack, floor manager for San Francisco dispensary SPARC, said staff asks customers to take off hoodies or sunglasses before they enter, though patients can leave on hats and beanies. "It's about making staff and patients feel safe," Schnack said, as opposed to feeling like someone's about to rob the place.

Clubs can be relatively wholesome, positive places, compared to, say, a bar on a Friday night. "People feel good when they come in here," Schnack said. "Some of our security team has worked in bars and it's such a different environment from what they're used to. People who come in are really respectful of us and what we're doing."

4) Expect paperwork.

Generally, first-time patients have to become members of the collective, which invloves learning some rules of the road. Read the paperwork.

5) No cell phones.

Phones are distracting, Bowers noted. Schnack said they pose a wide array of safety and privacy problems. Patients don't want photos of them on the web. Security doesn't want robbers coordinating an attack, or drug dealers setting up black-market sales from the counter line.

6) Feel free to ask questions, but have an idea of what you want.

A lot of first-time visitors are so overwhelmed by their options Harborside assigns two staff members to give them a tour of the facility, and the menu. "I love it when someone comes in here and is able to ask questions," Schnack said. "We have the knowledge here to help educate them on what has worked for other people."

7) Respect other people's privacy.

Patients at the counter can disclose private medical information about serious illnesses like cancer and AIDS. Give them their space so they can feel comfortable, Schnack said.

8) Don't go crazy your first time.

Berkeley Patients Group spokesperson Brad Senesac said he discourages patients from buying an ounce, a Volcano vaporizer, and some edibles on their first trip. Over at BPCC, "We recommend a small amount," Bowers said. "Medical cannabis users should model and reward responsible use and never use cannabis as an excuse for irresponsible behavior."

9) Observe consumption rules.

Some people can't use pot at home, or in their rental, so a few dispensaries allow for on-site usage. Respect the written rules. There's no sharing medication at BPG, for example. Vaporizers should be set around 375 degrees. Don't make a mess, and if it's busy, don't hang around for longer than a half hour or so. If it's not busy, feel free to kick back and bring a book, Schnack said.

10) Be a good neighbor.

Dispensaries have to operate at higher standards than the average business to survive, and customers are their ambassadors. Don't smoke pot in front of or anywhere around the dispensary, Bowers said. Don't blast music from your car, or smoke pot in the parking lot, Senesac noted. Don't double-park, jaywalk or park in other businesses' parking spots, said Thompson. And don't litter, Schnack said. "We never want our neighbors to feel uncomfortable we are a medical cannabis dispensary," he added. Clubs like to keep foot traffic at a minimum. Harborside has a limit of two visits per day, to decrease traffic and diversion. Senesac also noted that BPG patients can't purchase more than two ounces per day.

Seeds & Stems

Major clubs along the West Coast and inColorado are pushing back against aggressive audits by the Internal Revenue Service this year. A letter from representatives of six medical marijuana industries in November asks the commissioner of the IRS to let dispensaries take business deductions. The IRS has told some clubs they cannot and that could close them all, said Stephen DeAngelo, owner of Harborside Health Center in Oakland. The IRS had no comment.

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