Cannabis buds are weighed before being packaged for sale at the Green Door Dispensary in San Francisco. Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED
Cannabis buds are weighed before being packaged for sale at the Green Door Dispensary in San Francisco. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Not Your Parents' Dealer: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Today

Not Your Parents' Dealer: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Today

Brightly lit rooms, enticing menus and a smiling staff greet customers from the entrance of the Green Door.  What initially might seem like a favorite coffee bar is actually a San Francisco dispensary.

The Green Door in San Francisco is one of the oldest medical marijuana dispensaries in the United States, having opened in 2003.

Gone are the days of dark backrooms and transactions made in secret. Bright displays show off available products while daily menus offer unique-sounding flavors such as Bombay Cherry Doughnut and Platinum Cookies. Rather than baristas, the staff is made up of knowledgeable "budtenders" who can offer insight into the numerous products available.

If Proposition 64 passes in November, it's expected that the number of marijuana dispensaries will increase throughout the Bay Area.

So what really goes on in a dispensary?

From weighing out bulk product to patients enjoying their merchandise, I follow the marijuana buds from start to finish at the dispensary.

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Bulk bags of marijuana are received from vendors and weighed by hand as they're packaged for individual sale.

Maurice Price, who has been working at the Green Door dispensary for two years, weighs out and packages cannabis buds.
Cannabis buds are poured into small bags after being weighed by hand. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Maurice Price, who has been working at the Green Door dispensary for two years, weighs and packages cannabis buds. Price says he's in support of Proposition 64. He says that it would cut down on the number of people jailed for illegal marijuana use.

Cannabis buds are chosen and weighed by hand.
Maurice Price is careful to choose just the right buds to package up. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Price picks through the bulk container of marijuana to find the best buds for each package. He wants every client to get the best product possible, no matter what bag they buy from the counter.

After being weighed, the cannabis buds are packaged for sale at the Green Door Dispensary in San Francisco, California.
Packages of cannabis buds lay on a counter at the Green Door dispensary. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Three containers of paper cones are filled and finished as pre-rolls that will be sold at the Green Door dispensary in San Francisco, California. Approximately 750 pre-rolls are made each day by staff.
Three containers of paper cones are filled and finished as premade joints. (Brittany Hoea-Small/KQED)

Staff members grind down marijuana that doesn't meet the tough standards for full-bud packaging. Then they sift the finer material and use it to fill premade joints. Every day they make at least 750 joints.

Ricardo Rodriguez fills cones to make pre-rolls for sale at the Green Door dispensary in San Francisco, California. Rodriguez, who has been working at the dispensary since January, makes approximately 750 pre-rolls a day during his shift.
With practiced hands, Ricardo Rodriguez fills paper cones with marijuana before tapping out the end and folding them up. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Ricardo Rodriguez has been at the dispensary since January and really enjoys it.

"We're like a big family here," say Rodriguez. "We all help each other out. Everyone is very supportive."

Drawers full of different strains of cannabis stand in the back of the dispensary. The Green Door dispensary carries dozens of different strains daily.
Staff search through drawers of packaged marijuana for customers at the dispensary. (Brittany Hosea-SMall/KQED)

After the marijuana is packaged and ready for sale, it's taken downstairs to the main shop. An entire back wall is lined with drawers full of different strains of marijuana. The Green Door dispensary carries an assortment of strains that changes daily.

Alongside the buds are edibles of all varieties. From chocolate bars and macaroons to lozenges and cotton candy,  staff say the marijuana-infused foods are a popular treat with patients.

A staff member at the Green Door dispensary in San Francisco, California holds a cannabis-infused macaroon by Madame Munchie.
A staff member at the Green Door dispensary in San Francisco holds a marijuana-infused macaroon by Madame Munchie. (Brittany Hosea-SMall/KQED)

Upstairs from the shop is a lounge where patients can use the products they've purchased. Green Door is one of only a few dispensaries in San Francisco that offers this option.

Nic Ash rolls a ‘Backwoods’ in the smoking lounge upstairs from the shop. Green Door is one of only a few dispensaries in San Francisco that offers a lounge where patients can use their product after purchasing it.
Nic Ash rolls a ‘backwoods blunt' in the smoking lounge upstairs from the shop. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

In a large room full of windows and skylights, more than a dozen patients sit at tables or lounge on couches. In the corner, a small kitchen offers paper cones and rolling papers, alongside dabbing rigs and vaporizers. Nic Ash, a patient of Green Door, enjoys rolling a "backwoods blunt" while sitting with friends.

Cannabis buds are broken up onto a tobacco leaf by a patient in the lounge.
Cannabis buds are broken up onto a tobacco leaf by a patient in the lounge. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

State financial analysts say that if Proposition 64 passes, shops like this could bring in hundreds of millions, or perhaps more than a billion, dollars in revenue.

But a variety of groups, for many reasons, are opposed to the proposition. Some small growers say they’ll be pushed out by “Big Marijuana,” whereas other groups are concerned about children being exposed to the drug.

But Alicia Darrow, the chief operations manager of Green Door, says it should be legalized. “It does create competition, but that's standard in any business," she said.

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