I’m not sure I’m ready for modern cannabis. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for legal weed — for medical purposes and for grown-ass adult consumption (stay in school, kids, and just say no). As a young adult in my 20s and 30s, I indulged regularly. I inhaled frequently. Alright, alright — I was a pothead.
Fast-forward and I’m now a decade into the AARP years. My consumption rate has dropped considerably to maybe a few times a year, mainly when I land on a Cape Cod beach.
Along with same-sex marriage, legal weed is something I never thought I’d live to see. And now that I can do both, I’m not much interested in either. Thanks, irony. Still, when NETA — the first adult-use pot shop (whoops, I mean cannabis dispensary) in Western Mass opened in Northampton, I was curious. That is, until I saw the huge crowds waiting in line for hours to score legit reefer.
Talk about surreal. People standing in line for weed — in public and in broad daylight. That’s a far cry from furtive meetings with your dealer in a dark parking lot behind Cumberland Farms.
But the icing on this cannabis cake was watching police officers direct traffic and customers to the marijuana. Cops making it easier and safer for people to buy weed in an orderly manner? I get a cranial cramp trying to wrap my mind around it.
When INSA — the second recreational cannabis dispensary in the 413 — opened in Easthampton, my curiosity blossomed into a full-blown case of FOMO (fear of missing out). I simply had to know what this brave new world offered. And so, this former stoner saddled up and rode over to INSA to experience retail cannabis shopping firsthand.
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore
I rolled into INSA’s ample parking lot at high noon on a weekday — no line, no waiting. Cannabis dispensaries are secure, locked facilities, and you must be at least 21 years old to enter. A cheerful fellow at the entrance checked my ID, buzzed the door and let me inside.
I walked into the reception area and was struck by the redolent, funky skunk that is cannabis. Old habits die hard, and I suddenly felt jittery. Just a few months ago, an odor that strong could get you busted but good. It was all I could do not to scream, “Holy pot plants, Batman! Hide the weed!”
Recovering my cool, I looked around the reception area, which contained four main elements:
1) An express pickup counter for people who order ahead online
2) A glassed-in registration window
3) An ATM machine in the corner
4) A missed opportunity. Not a single vending machine in sight. You’d think selling a variety of sweet and salty snacks would be a no-brainer.
Behind the registration window sat a woman with a welcoming smile — a woman you might expect to find organizing church bake sales — if the ladies in your church happen to smoke dope and wear gold, marijuana-leaf jewelry. She scanned my ID, buzzed the door, and granted me access to the inner sanctum.
Remember when Dorothy gets blown out of black-and-white Kansas and dropped into technicolor Oz? Yeah, it was kinda like that.
Picture a clean, industrial space with lots of wood and metal. Large marketing posters depict smiling, active people and extol the benefits of cannabis: “live and laugh,” “hit the trail,” “ease pain,” “unlock creativity,” “solve problems,” “achieve deeper intimacy,” and “sleep soundly.” If you’ve got it, cannabis cures it (disclaimer: not really).
A large digital menu lists the cannabis varieties currently available, and glass retail cases display a dizzying array of cannabis products and paraphernalia in designer packaging. As someone accustomed to buying weed in a plastic baggie, the times they are a changin’.
Fortunately, dispensary staff members — known in the biz as “budtenders” — stand at the ready to answer questions, handle products, and make recommendations. INSA offers cannabis in a variety of forms. These include different varieties of flower — your basic beautiful bud. INSA displays a sample of each variety in glass cases along with its strain name, characteristics and price per gram. You can also purchase pre-rolled joints (available in either in one-half or full-gram sizes). Keep in mind that THC levels in modern cannabis flower hover around 20 percent. A little bit goes a long way.
Next comes distilled oil, a concentrate that you’ll find in vape pens (either disposable or refillable), dart pods (a larger-volume vaping device) and refill cartridges for both. Vape pens and dart pods are typically small enough to fit in the palm of your hand for discreet portability and use. They’re inhale-activated and rechargeable via USB. Quite an evolution from the humble roach clip.
If distilled oil doesn’t pack enough punch, you can move on up to wax or shatter. These are just two of several highly potent cannabis concentrates (called “dabs”) made by extracting cannabinoids like CBD and THC. Wax resembles a malleable amber clay, and its THC content ranges from 60 to 80 percent. Shatter, which earns its name from its brittle, glass-like consistency, contains up to 90 percent cannabinoid content. Approach these concentrates with caution, because they’re not kidding when they say “highly potent.” According to my budtender, people who acclimate to wax or shatter typically can’t go back to flower due to its lower THC content.
If you’re tempted by wax or shatter, you’ll need a dab rig or a dab pen and a propane lighter. A dab rig is basically a glass waterpipe that vaporizes the concentrate, allowing you to experience the product’s full flavor and potency.
Still with me? Good let’s move on to edibles. If you’re not familiar with eating cannabis, know this: it takes longer to feel the effects than it does when you smoke it. Take one dose and wait at least an hour before you even consider taking more. And (I can’t believe I even have to say this) keep your edibles locked away from kids and pets. Eat responsibly, people.
The edibles menu varies, but on this particular day, it included chocolate bars (both milk and dark) and fruit chews. Cannabis tincture is another edible option if, for example, you’re avoiding sugar or you don’t want to smoke or vape. Simply place a few drops of tincture under your tongue or in a beverage.
Next up, topicals (when I said, “dizzying array of cannabis products,” I meant it). Choose from transdermal patches, which deliver cannabinoids directly to the bloodstream over a 12-hour period, immersions salts and bath bombs. Topical products don’t produce psychoactive effects. They’re typically used to soothe aches and pains or as an effective sleep aid. Your mileage may vary.
As if that wasn’t enough modernity to absorb, my budtender started talking about the effects of sativa strains (energizing) versus indica strains (deep relaxation), dosages and the percentages of total active cannabinoids and terpenes. Hold up, says I. What the hell are terpenes?
Terpenes are chemical compounds found in the essential oil of plants — including cannabis. They determine what my budtender referred to as the “flavor profile” of the various cannabis strains, including hints of lemon, pine, and berry for starters. Terpenes. Flavor profiles. Can weed-tastings be far behind?
Cannabis, you’re trying way too hard. Your skunky aroma carries a whiff of desperation as you strive for a veneer of sophistication. But how sophisticated can you be with strain names like Ancestral Skunk, Facewreck, Chemdawg, Shark Shock, and Trainwreck? It’s like Jeff Spicoli finally graduated Ridgemont High and grew up to be head of marketing.
Another counterculture up in smoke
I fear for future generations of adults who will grow up with legal cannabis. What happens when their USB charger fails and the vape pen’s dead? What then? Back in my day (insert waving fist here), we may have been stoned off our asses on junk weed, but we knew the joy of crafting a bong from an apple, making a pipe from the spray handle off a garden hose or rolling a joint with a tampon wrapper.
I can’t escape the feeling that we’re looking at the gentrification of weed. Big Canna, if you will. Surterra Wellness, one of the largest cannabis companies in Florida, recently bought NETA. At least INSA grows and processes its cannabis locally.
My foray into legal cannabis was certainly illuminating. But it also made me oddly nostalgic. It reminded me that whenever something illegal becomes legal, it loses its counterculture cache and turns outlaws into — consumers. As we head down that dark road to Big Canna, let’s make room for craft weederies and Mom-and-Pot shops. In other words, grow and smoke local.