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Washington became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But there are a lot of challenges ahead: the state must set up a licensing system for marijuana growers and sellers, the federal government may mount a challenge, the need to set a new limit on amount of marijuana in the bloodstream for safe driving. And medical marijuana is still in the picture.Over the next several months we will be exploring the issue and tracking the impact of I-502.

Hey Budtender! Enlighten Me About This Weed

KUOW Photo/Michael Clinard

This article was supposed to be called, “How Not To Look Like A Poser When You Buy Weed.”

But when I called budtenders in Colorado for advice, they said that when it comes to legal pot, most everyone is a newbie. The only rule I heard was, “Don’t cuss at the budtender,” which seems less a rule than a tenet of basic human decency.

Rather, the budtenders were proud of their status as pot guru.

“People were so used to getting what they got,” Stephen Burns, manager at Sticky Buds in Denver, told me when I called. “They would go to their dealer, who probably didn’t know what kind it was, hand him their money and get something.”

Now that pot is legal, the budtenders – a term they use without irony – explain the various strains to customers.  

“A lot of people don’t know the difference,” said Courtney Baker, a budtender at Denver’s Sweet Leaf. “They have no idea what they’re doing. They just want us to explain everything and anything we can, which ones we like better and why.”

Baker, who has worked at Sweet Leaf for six months, walks customers through the various strains. The marijuana sits in two glass cases at Sweet Leaf – one for sativas and one for indicas.   

“I would tell them, ‘The indicas are going to be more of your nighttime body high. Sativas, more of your daytime uppy, more going-out-and-doing-things-and-functioning high,” Baker said.

She recommends her favorites: pineapple express, pink kush, durban poison (a classic, she says, because it’s 100 percent sativa), kong, bubba kush. All cost $20 a gram, or $35 for an eighth (3.5 grams).

“I tell them what kind of high it gives me,” Baker said. “But everyone is different. Almost all weed is hybrid. Something that might hit me like an indica might hit someone else like a sativa. I try to explain how I feel about it.”

Crystal Balcom, a budtender at EuFlora Cannabis in Denver, said that it’s important for retailers to know dosages.

“We aren’t doctors; we’re here to help people understand the products,” Balcom said. “We let people know to try just a little bit at a time.” Marijuana is more potent than it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s, she said, as botanists – potanists? – play with the plant’s genetics.

Our social media maven, Bond Huberman, asked reddit in Denver for tips, and they basically told us to relax, already, it's just a business. One person offered this guidance, though, which was helpful: 

Also, (I prefer the app) will give you ratings on dispensaries, as well as in depth info regarding nearly every strain. Super helpful to have the app ready when you walk in to see reviews on each strain, plus what the medicinal values are, the general properties (paranoia, dry mouth, euphoric, etc), as well as the negatives.

At Sticky Buds, Burns said the most typical customer is someone who stops by after work to buy a joint. Sticky Buds sells 11 strains rolled into joints; each costs $10 plus tax.

And he said that just about everyone – nurses, cops, 70-year-old women – who walks in the door says the same thing: “I feel like a kid in a candy shop.” Many tell him that they haven’t smoked in decades.

“Some people will come in here and they’re not used to it, obviously because it’s so new,” Burns said. “They think they’re doing something wrong. They can’t get over the fact that it’s legal. They say they feel like they’re doing something wrong. They say, ‘So I can drive around with this in my car?’”

Burns said that since recreational pot started being sold legally, the black market has changed. Now it’s mostly people who grow pot in their backyards and sell it to friends.

“There’s no need for it because pot is everywhere,” he said.