Is it just me or is it hard to get through a conversation these days without someone mentioning CBD (or cannabidiol, a component in marijuana) oil? The claims seem to run the gamut of cures for all that ails us. Last week I got invited to join in a pyramid marketing scheme to become my own cannabis “girl boss.” It was the same week that the creator of Jelly Belly sold out his CBD oil-infused jelly beans within hours of an online launch.
When California voters passed Proposition 64 this past fall, it made January 1 of the new year go time to build legal pot retail in the Golden State. Gold is a good way to describe it, too, when businesses like San Francisco’s compassionate care dispensary The Apothecarium was recently sold to Canadian Company TerrAscend for $118 million. While I may consider myself a boss without the pot, I admit that I know almost nothing about cannabis retail. Enter my friends at the new Green Guide Tours in San Francisco.
I meet Green Guide Tours Guide Joe Foriska in the middle of the blossom-studded Yerba Buena (translated from Spanish = Good Herb) Park in San Francisco’s SOMA District. Thursday’s 11:30 am Bud Crawl tour includes me, a middle-aged couple from San Diego and a park ranger from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Bud Crawl tour is the first walking tour of its kind, promising visits to the best marijuana lounges in the city along with information on the history, agriculture and business-side of recreational cannabis. Joe gives a warm hello and instructs that we are welcome to imbibe on the tour, or simply observe, and that the two-hours is a fun, no-pressure experience. As a dispensary newbie, I plan to follow along, looking over the shoulders of the more expert of the group.
Within a few minutes we arrive at the first stop, Bloom Room. A bite-sized space decorated with colorful pop art and ceiling-hung air plants, we are welcomed into the lobby. Each of the dispensaries we visit has a check-in lobby, retail display and a lounge area where the products can be consumed. As first-time visitors we must check in with valid government issued identification and e-sign a boiler plate indemnity agreement before going further. Joe stops to provide us with an iPad overview of the type of products that will be found on the tour from buds (or flower) to resins and hash, CO2 cartridges, oils and wax, tinctures and topicals, and edibles. Loaded with knowledge, we enter the retail space. We are greeted by a friendly budtender, who stands behind the counter and its colorful display of 20-30 canisters. We are invited to look, smell and consult with him, and he patiently answers questions ranging from THC levels (tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana), sourcing and pricing to the type of high a product might elicit—will it excite or subdue? Customers can purchase up to an ounce of bud per day and up to seven grams of extracts, with prices beginning at $25 and going up to $130.
It’s hard not to compare the experience with a wine tasting or interaction with a knowledgeable sommelier, like choosing the perfect Cab for dinner with friends. We are then led to the vapor lounge where Joe gives a tutorial on how to use one of Bloom Room’s volcano vaporizers. If you take the tour as an observer, please note that a contact high is inevitable from exposure to pot smoke. However, you’ll get no pressure from Joe, the dispensary employees or fellow tourists to do or buy anything on the tour. They all seem to go out of their way to make everyone feel comfortable. On our way out, we are invited back for Stoner Trivia being held later in the evening.
We continue to four more dispensaries over the two hours, covering about 1.5 miles of sidewalk. Each stop has its own design aesthetic, music (mellow hip hop, rock or modern jazz) and range of products, and they seem more like upscale wine bars than the head shops of my imaginings. Our third stop is Sparc, which received the American Institute of Architects Award for its interior’s sleek and modern design and spare furnishings. Joe introduces us to the owner and a hero of the local compassionate care culture, Wayne Justmann. Wayne worked alongside pioneers like Dennis Peron, who passed away from cancer last year, to get medical marijuana legislation passed in California. “These are healing places,” he says, sweeping his arm in the direction of Sparc’s busy Scandinavian-inspired lounge. “No fights and no yelling. Just people feeling good.”
Our final stop is at the city’s newest dispensary on Market Street. Moe Green’s, named after a character in the movie The Godfather, is billed as a luxury destination, sharing the street with nearby Westfield San Francisco Centre and the popular-with-visitors Powell and Market Streets trolley car. We enter a modern vintage lounge furnished with large avocado green banquettes, each set with a well-appointed tray of cannabis accoutrement. We sit and Joe talks about the future of the industry, pointing to white-label products being introduced by celebrities like Francis Ford Coppola, Willie Nelson and Whoopi Goldberg. This past holiday season Coppola sold a limited-edition marijuana flower pack complete with pipe, rolling papers and matches, and presented in a plastic wine bottle carrier for $99.99.
In addition to the celebrity-branded products, Joe sees dispensaries changing as a result of research and development and customer pressure. Currently clients purchase products in multiple-use quantities, but in the future budtenders will mix single-use servings like bartenders mix and serve cocktails.
As the tour ends, I am struck by how friendly and inclusive everyone has been and how comfortable and fashionable the lounges have seemed. Joe thanks us and we head out into the blue sky, puffy-clouded afternoon with considerably more knowledge on this burgeoning green world. The Bud Crawl Tour is available Wednesday through Friday. Pricing and information on additional tours, including a Free Marijuana Tour, can be found at greenguidetours.com.
Pippa Ponte is a writer, traveler, cook and experience seeker, living in Northern California.