The storefront may greet customers with friendly vibes yet for most, the first visit inside a dispensary is daunting. Despite the warm and cozy atmosphere these establishments generally overwhelm consumers new to cannabis. Though it is natural to feel anxious in a new setting, the reality is that your first time at a dispensary is nothing to stress over.

For consumers new to marijuana, attempting to comprehend the intricate functionality of the plant while also navigating its diverse range of products is enough to discourage some from even giving cannabis a chance. It is why Colleen Scanlon-Maynard, Senior VP of Marketing at The Happy Camper in Palisade and Bailey, has not only prioritized creating a welcoming atmosphere for new customers, but also educating in responsible use.

“We try to make every age group feel welcomed in our dispensary,” Scanlon-Maynard remarks. “We’ve hired budtenders of all ages. We have education for everyone. It is important to have someone at the dispensary they can identify with.”

The Happy Camper - like the other dispensaries in nearby Palisade, De Beque, and Parachute - have had to alter the shopping experience for consumers in wake of the novel coronavirus. While the state of Colorado deemed marijuana dispensaries “essential” during the pandemic, it has only allowed operation under stern restrictions.

Consequently, The Happy Camper made the innovative decision to switch to online orders last year to maintain a seamless buying process while also offering something more personal for newcomers. As a result, visitors are encouraged to call with questions or stop by where they can meet with a Budtender while making their first purchase using the in-store kiosk.

“There are many [first-time visitors] that are local, but just do not know about us or have never been in a store,” Scanlon-Maynard explains. “We try to educate novice and out of town customers very similarly because a lot of them need the same basic information” in regards to understanding different products, strains, methods of consumption, and more.

It is a sentiment that High Q shares when making the first visit for a customer new to cannabis straightforward, informative, and - most importantly - easy-going. High Q specializes in organically-grown marijuana with four locations in Colorado. The dispensary has kept the sales floor open while observing COVID-19 restrictions outlined by the state. While seasoned customers are currently not able to examine flower hands-on such as the case at virtually every dispensary prior to COVID, High Q continues to do what it can to educate new consumers. Maiah, the store manager at the Parachute location, encourages first-time visitors “to ask as many questions as you want. No question is a stupid question.”

When inexperienced customers take their first steps through the door and stare wide eyed at the endless supply of flower, edibles, concentrates, topicals, and CBD products it is natural to stumble around clueless. Therefore, Maiah likes to break the ice by asking newcomers her favorite question: “How do you prefer to consume it?” Eating, smoking, vaping, and “dabbing” are just four of the popular methods that do not even take into account topicals (i.e. lotions).

Additionally, High Q has an expert tip that can help distinguish yourself from other beginners: don’t rely purely on THC percentages in the flower to determine potency or effectiveness. Rather, Maiah suggests “just because [the strain] tests really high does not mean it is going to work for you,” she informs. “Everybody is a little different. We try to teach people more about terpene profiles and the effects of terpenes.”

It is vital that even those merely curious about marijuana learn the basics between sativa and indica, along with the various methods of indigestion prior to a first visit. Nonetheless, no one expects you to be an expert: “We’re here to teach you,” Maiah from High Q reiterates.

Learning more about cannabis along with the dispensaries that house its product goes a long way toward denouncing the more prevalent misconceptions surrounding the plant. Dispensaries along the Western Slope are starting to feel more confident opening up shop where they feel accepted among the community they serve. Therefore, while most of the attention recently has gone toward the recreational side of the industry, medicinal stores have, and will continue to in the future, serve a crucial function.

Colorado Alternative Health Care, which has operated in Palisade since 2009, is yet another dispensary known for putting the customer first. While customers do need a medical card (MMC) to enter this dispensary, qualifying patients may obtain one through a straightforward process. Some consider it worth the extra hassle as Colorado medicinal users do receive certain privileges such as paying far less in taxes along with stronger discretion (CAHC is HIPPA compliant).

Furthermore, Ashley (Operations Manager at Colorado Alternative Health Care) advocates that medicinal dispensaries offer “more of a one-on-one experience” which focuses on the healing properties of cannabis, first and foremost. The medicinal dispensary works closely with patients to monitor lifestyle choices and influences that contribute to pain or anxiety, two principal health concerns that Cannabidiol (CBD) may assist in treating. Ashley concludes, “We are trying to help people have a better quality of life, and feel better.”

The Happy Camper offers its homegrown, full-spectrum CBD product (happycampercbd.com). Colleen Scanlon-Maynard at The Happy Camper supports the mounting research and testimonials that endorse CBD, “I’ve had people call me that have been using prescription pain meds that want to get off them because they know they aren’t good for them,” she acknowledges. “[Customers] want to know more about CBD, and I don’t ever make any claims, but what I tell them is, just try it and then we’ll see how it works for [your individual circumstances]. You will not believe the people that call me back and say it’s unbelievable what CBD is doing… they are just ecstatic.”

Arriving at a dispensary for the first time should not be daunting for anyone. Cannabis is useful for a variety of purposes when you know the right places to look, and the appropriate people to ask.

No one is an expert their first time around, which is why budtenders are available to assist.