‘I don’t care if they call it flower, I say bud.’ Tales from cannabis shopping in Annapolis
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‘I don’t care if they call it flower, I say bud.’ Tales from cannabis shopping in Annapolis

Aug 03, 2023

I learned to say “flower.”

Bud’s OK. Weed has negative connotations, and pot is so your grandpa’s high. Marijuana is racist. Saying cannabis makes you sound like a journalist working on a column. Which I was.

I tried out the three Annapolis pot dispensaries over the weekend, bringing home enough cannabis — in edibles, pre-rolled joints, and loose in a little glass jar like the one for my wife’s expensive moisturizer — to float me for the foreseeable future.

And if I learned a bit of jargon in conversations at Mana Supply Co., Gold Leaf and Panacea Wellness, I discovered both the sort of corporate goofiness that would have made the late comedian George Carlin smirk and some truth about who is buying legal weed in a small town.

These three dispensaries represent radically divergent thinking about how a dispensary should look and how it promotes itself to customers. In a new, tightly regulated business, they’ve embarked on different paths to building their own brands.

From the low-key hardware store vibe of Mana, to the all-black uniforms and over-the-top gilt of Gold Leaf, to the somewhat secret location of Panacea, this is an industry early in the process of finding itself.

“Annapolis has enough space for multiple people,” said Chris Harvey, manager of Panacea Wellness. “Cannabis is very subjective, like alcohol or wine.”

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Friday was my first time shopping for weed. Well, if you don’t count visiting that suspiciously older guy from New York who lived in my college dorm as “shopping.”

It wasn’t long after college that I gave up cannabis. I just wasn’t comfortable reporting on arrests for possession when I was smoking it myself. So, for most of the past 40 years, I’ve been weed-free.

Then Maryland shifted from medical marijuana sales to making recreational use legal on July 1. If anything is clear now, it’s that everyone who wants to get high can. The first month of sales totaled $87.4 million — enough to buy a couple of pre-rolled Cherry Chen Pre-rolls joints for every person living in Maryland.

Consuming all of this cannabis has ignited strong feelings among some Marylanders, with a connoisseur’s focus on what you should buy and where you should buy it.

I was sitting outside with some friends Friday and mentioned that I’d bought my first weed for something I was writing. Immediately one of them offered a friendly dissertation about her favorite bud — “I don’t care if they call it flower, I say bud.” Consider the terpenes, she said, because everything is a hybrid now.

With that mystical bit of wisdom, I reviewed what I bought Friday and made plans to ask better questions in my final shopping trip on Sunday.

I started out at Mana, hoping to encounter the likes of Cheech and Chong or at least Rhett & Link. Instead, I got Tom Silva from “This Old House” on PBS.

A few people wandered among white wood-and-glass display shelves that just as easily could have been filled with fancy doorknobs. All the action was behind a small counter tucked in the corner, visible through a large window. There, products were being sorted into black boxes, drawers and bins lining the walls and labeled for easy reach. Above a drive-thru teller’s window, someone had spelled out specials on a whiteboard using colored markers.

“No, I don’t have an order for you,” the drive-thru budmeister said to a customer who pulled up in her car. “How long ago did you call it in?”

Yes, I know the phrase is budtenders, a play on the bartender. But if we’re going to make up goofy names with hopes of being culturally entrenched, I want a shot at that action.

All the cannabis sold in these stores is grown and processed in Maryland, even if there’s a connection with a national brand. Some of the product names include Blue Magoo, White Chocolate Berry Beezle Bites and Under the Stars.

That’s about marketing, and if some of the products seem like the person picking them was high, there are other theories to explain their seemingly random quality.

“A dartboard I think,” my bearded budmeister said, looking at his tablet rather than me.

“Uh, I’ve never done this before,” I told him, repeating what someone in the office suggested I say. “Maybe a pre-roll and some edibles? Something mild, for anxiety and stress.”

My conversations while shopping felt vaguely medicinal; as if I was describing symptoms. At Mana, the label listed the store as my physician and two pre-rolled doobies came in a black plastic tube that might as easily carry a hormone replacement.

The difference at Gold Leaf in Annapolis was glaring. If Mana is a low-key whisper, then Gold Leaf shouts “GET YOUR FORMERLY ILLEGAL SUBSTANCE HERE.”

The wedge-shaped building is framed with tinted windows and gold framing, a Casino Royale glitz that jumps out from its dreary strip mall. A doorman in a skinny black suit welcomes you inside, where two dozen men and women in their own versions of black-on-black are strolling among expensive bongs and pipes or hats and T-shirts.

“First time here,” I told the young woman behind the counter as she blinked her bejeweled false eyelashes at me.

With my driver’s license captured for creating an account, I was introduced to Claud.

Through two golden doors, we arrived at a cannabis spa, with stone-lined walls and weed-themed art set off by illuminated glass cases filled with products. Twenty-five more black-clad staffers thrummed with simultaneous activity — explaining, selling and then retrieving the requested varieties from a storage room.

The Blue Magoo pre-rolls each came in tiny, individual glass tubes. They were tucked inside a black, oversized matchbox printed with a cannabis motif and highlighted with the store name and logo in gold lettering.

“Is it always this busy?” I asked Claud as he escorted me and my black-and-gold tote bag back to the lobby.

“It’s always like this.”

Sunday was my third shop visit, and finding Panacea Wellness was the first challenge. It was recommended by my friend, and she supplemented her tip with advice to try Garcia Hand Picked.

Panacea is part of a vertical business, with licenses to grow, process and sell its products both retail and wholesale. The white block building is tucked behind a bowling alley on General’s Highway, an unmarked location you have to know before you can find it.

Inside, the wood-and-glass decor was the middle ground between Mana’s utility and Gold Leaf’s glam. The real surprise, though, was David.

We talked about terpenes — he explained they are chemical compounds that determine aromas, flavors and effects — and matched what I wanted. I fell back on stress relief but added giggles for laughs.

When I handed over my license, something I did at each dispensary, he recognized me.

David grew up in my neighborhood, briefly spending time in baseball and Scouts with my son. His dad, Bill, and I were the kind of friends who’d share an occasional laugh and beer when we bumped into each other. His family sold their house long ago, and I’d lost touch.

“How are your mom and dad, and your sister?” I asked.

“We lost Dad in 2021,” he told me.

My breath caught.

“Oh, David. I’m so sorry.”

I know the manager of my liquor store, the owner of the Mexican restaurant down the street and the bartender who makes those extra spicy Margaritas at the place we hang out on Friday nights. Now I know my budmeister, too.

In a small town, it’s the connections that make you feel at home. There are stereotypes about people who buy flower or bud or whatever you call it today, maybe even about the businesses themselves.

Getting past them is easier when you know the person on the other end of the joint.

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An earlier version of this column used an incorrect calculation to divide the $87 million in cannabis sales during July among Maryland's 6.1 million people. The results would be more than enough to pay for two Cherry Chen Pre-rolls for every resident of the state.