A Traveler’s Guide To Northwest Cannabis Culture: Part 2

jars of weed in washington

Welcome back fellow cannabis consumers, readers, and like-minded cannabis-loving individuals! In the first installment of our guide to buying weed in the Northwest, we looked at how the marijuana cultures of Portland and Vancouver, BC interact with the local community. From products worth trying, marijuana dispensaries worth visiting, and some brief legal discussions, we navigated through my hazy journal as a traveling cannabis user on the road.

Today, we are going to be looking at Seattle, Washington. Seattle, until California is able to fully implement recreational marijuana sales, is the largest legal cannabis market in the US by population size (With the Seattle metro area containing over 3.7 million people in the region). When combined with a built-in, decade-deep appreciation for marijuana in Seattle, it only makes sense sales from buying marijuana in Washington surpassed $1 billion since the recreational program began.

It is no surprise each state who has passed laws legalizing marijuana has crafted the policy differently. After all, this is an extremely new market in the modern age and it is facing more than cumbersome federal restrictions. This is why regional culture matters for visiting marijuana users. Buying weed in Seattle is the long winded result of the same regional culture via lobbying groups, its residents, and their elected officials deciding how regulation, city ordinances, and laws are crafted for the legal marijuana industry. Some of these state-by-state differences are more obvious while others are less so. In Colorado and Oregon, for instance, adults can grow marijuana at home whereas in Washington such behavior is illegal.

While still not ideally situated under federal law, for those visiting from a city, state, or country where buying weed and marijuana use are still very much illegal, the Pacific Northwest is something of a unicorn – a fantastical place where marijuana and humans (and dogs) may productively (or at least legally) interact.

Seattle: Washington’s Cannabis Capital

SEA2Do you see the theme? Bigger cities, having a larger numbers of people, tend to handle the purchasing/ use of marijuana with a heightened sense of visibility. Buying weed in a dispensary is only secondary to the culture supporting the cannabis industry and use of the plant. In places such as Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver – where social visibility is high – marijuana has for generations had ample opportunity to grow with the regional culture.

Ultimately, the appreciation of the cannabis plant for its medicinal and intoxicating effects drives the continued fight for marijuana legalization. Increasingly, we know prohibition is not effective. Whenever the laws regarding marijuana became more restrictive, people were put in jail needlessly, labeled as criminals, and it did nothing to stop the use of marijuana within society. Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver all contain their own regional way of coping with continued marijuana prohibition as well as the social changes within their own voter populations.

Marijuana use in Seattle is only meant to be done privately, not in public. Depending on where in Seattle you are, there is a good chance you may smell the regional marijuana culture at work. At times, the scent of terpenes layer pockets of air across the city – on corners, in parks, and along the streets and neighborhoods. Not only is marijuana fully legal to purchase and privately consume in Seattle, marijuana dispensaries exist in nearly every neighborhood across the city. It turns out, Seattle marijuana laws do not limit the number of marijuana dispensary licenses which can be issued across the city.

This has had two effects on marijuana sales of concern to locals and visitors:

  1. Has made buying weed from Seattle dispensaries more convenient
  2. Has pushed down prices

The city of Seattle passed an ordinance dropping the enforcement of public marijuana use to the lowest priority of city police in 2004. These days, if the situation requires response or is otherwise disruptive, such as a person is ripping their pipe on a crowded street corner while blasting music from a backpack and spinning around for no determinate reason WHILE an officer happened to be nearby, the fine is a mere $27 (assuming you are 21 or older or a medical marijuana patient). In most cases, you’ll be given a warning.

Within a ten minutes walk from the Pike Place Market, in a neighborhood known as Belltown, there are two marijuana dispensaries. Have-a-Heart Belltown was the closest dispensary near me at the time I arrived back into the US from Canada. Seattle marijuana dispensaries are legally permitted to do sales between the hours of 8 am and 12 am, giving preference to whichever recreational dispensary was closest.

SEA3Have-a-Heart operates a total of six dispensary locations in the Seattle area, with a seventh location in Ocean Shores, WA. The Belltown location is located at 115 Blanchard St., Seattle, WA 98121. Commonly, you will be ID’d at the entrance and again at checkout.

The first thing you notice upon walking in is a long, hanging display case filled with all the different varieties of marijuana strains available. Continuing along the wall, you are directed to a similar case full of concentrates, followed by a case of edible products, followed by a case of cannabis oil cartridges.

(Check out Leafbuyer.com’s list of Seattle’s Most Eye-Catching Marijuana Dispensaries for more photo)

For visitors who have only purchased weed from a street dealer or from a friend, the level of choice variety – displayed in large, spanning, and well-lit cases – is enough to almost make deciding impossible. This is one of the reasons, I suspect, there is an employee circling around asking if anyone has questions or needs help making a selection. Once you land on a decision, the employee writes down the product name, size or volume, and processor on an order slip, which you then present to the cashier.

While not a direct question regarding marijuana use, I asked the roaming dispensary agent whether or not he thought the number of products undermined consumer’s ability to select products. He seemed to think the experience of being high was enough to draw people into a marijuana dispensary, making the huge variety, for someone in his position, advantageous. It is relatively easy to make suggestions, as many visiting or new marijuana users cannot yet sort the different effects from the different strains and often seek out products which are strong or high in THC.

I ended up meeting up with a few international travelers before SEA4heading to the dispensary. The Green Tortoise, where I was staying, offers a smoking room for guests where marijuana can safely and legally be consumed. We collectively purchased five (5) pre-rolled joints (0.5 gram each), two strain-specific hash oil cartridges (a total of 1,500mg), and a variety of edible products from Have-a-Heart. Joints from Have-a-Heart cost anywhere from $5-$18 typically and most oil cartridges range from $25-$60 for 500mg.

The joints were passed around and smoked within two hours. I didn’t have time to appreciate anything but the high. At one point we were passing back and forth several joints, edibles packages (cookies for everyone!), and vape pens while listening to music and playing Cards Against Humanity. Was it worth it? Definitely. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

After spending a few days appreciating a 1 gram, strain-specific hash oil cartridge ($45 with tax) – with hiking and island-hopping ferry adventures dominating most of the time – I felt it was time to try something new.

SEA5After doing an early morning stroll up to the Queen Anne neighborhood, where some of the best views of both downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier can be viewed, I found myself wandering back into Belltown. Just after 8 am, Herban Legends, the other marijuana dispensary near me, had just opened.

Herban Legends is located at 55 Bell St, Seattle, WA 98121. From the Pike Place Market, where the infamous Seattle Gum Wall exists, it is a 5-to-10-minute walk.

While offering marijuana products is their primary business, Herban Legends has a clothing, music, and art store as well (you don’t have to be 21 to browse in there).

At the entrance, you are greeted and ID’d. Upon entering the marijuana dispensary, you are drawn in by the rustic, wooden display cases. As it still before 9 am, there were more dispensary agents than customers, so after discussing with one budtender what I would like and hearing through some recommendations, I landed on some pre-rolled joints. He went into the back room to make sure the variety I had wanted was in stock and while he was gone, not one, but two other separate budtenders on separate occasions saw me waiting by the case and asked if I had been helped. If that isn’t attentiveness, what is?

PSEA6roduct knowledge abounding, the staff truly focuses on individual needs and concerns. The wooden design blends tightly with the comfortable, attentive customer service experience and ultimately delivers some excellent cannabis at prices similar to Have-a-Heart.

The third and final marijuana dispensary I was able to visit and buy weed from in Seattle was based on the recommendation of three separate people living in the Seattle – Uncle Ike’s. Uncle Ike’s currently has three locations in Seattle – one in the Central District, one on Capitol Hill, and one in White Center. I visited the Capitol Hill location, located at 501 15th Ave East, Seattle, WA 98112.

SEA7Again, walls filled with various displays and an enormous amount of different strains, edibles, and other marijuana-infused products. Uncle Ike’s staff is beyond attentive – they are responsive and can almost pinpoint the product or marijuana strain you are looking for with tactical precision. Though they were selling quarters of select strains for $12, the budtender and I ended up agreeing on Star Dawg by Artizen Cannabis would soothe, energize, and taste like tropical fruit and lavender. It was delicious.

While I was there, I took a moment to finally ask if there was a reason for the range of display cases. I mean sure, all dispensaries assumably have a way of displaying their products, but it was curious that each strain or product was produced by a specific grower or processor and must be packaged for a specific dispensary location before it is sold to the customer. This eliminates the ability to see and smell the buds directly or, to some degree, seems like a waste of packaging.

Curly hair, glasses, and an excitement to be in Denver for pride in mid-June, the budtender laid down the details as simple as he could: Washington set up their marijuana industry as close to their alcohol industry as they could. This removes a dispensary from being able to produce and ship large volumes of marijuana to other locations, forcing dispensaries to use a supplier, linking the retail dispensary with the producers. It’s why you may see the same strain name several times in a variety of packages all with similar, but not exactly the same potency percentages in Seattle dispensary locations.

To put this in perspective, Colorado dispensaries are able to purchase from growers and processors as well, but the dispensary as a business can produce as much as 70% the marijuana or marijuana-infused products it sells. This allows for less variety at most (not all) Colorado dispensary locations when compared to Seattle dispensaries and removes the need to sort through several packages of the same marijuana strain.

Click Here For Part 1


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Joey Wells
Joey is a freelance writer and digital marketer based out of Denver, Colorado. He has been a contributing writer in the cannabis industry for nearly two years. In his time in the cannabis space, he has written on economics, taxes, regulations, law, and medical or scientific research.