I have driven up and down Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood, CA, and passed Green Valley Collective for longer than the dispensary has been in business. I would see it clearly almost every day yet never seriously consider patronizing it even though I was a medical marijuana patient in need of a reliable medical dispensary. I can’t account for this avoidance, for there is nothing about the dispensary at all uninviting or worrisome. In fact, in the years preceding medical marijuana legalization, an exotic and woefully under-patronized Jamaican restaurant called Coley’s occupied the spot, and I had dined there in the 1990s. In other words this was familiar territory, inside and out, and yet after six months of reviewing local dispensaries I hadn’t even perused their Weedmaps menu. Why?
The answer is that sometimes the things we want or need most are right before our eyes. And yet because they are so close to us we fail to see them. I’ve spent generously in time and money surveying different dispensaries and products and publishing reviews of my experiences. The upside of all that investment has been my discovery of dispensaries with good customer service, quality-tested cannabis and cannabis products, reasonable supply and pricing, organized displays, well lit & clean store environments, friendly, knowledgable and supportive budtenders, easily accessed locations, and adequate parking. Although I had already discovered a handful of dispensaries possessing most of these characteristics, the industry’s product uncertainties and pricing inconsistencies were negatively impacting the most important of these qualities: supply and affordability. If I could not find nor afford my meds, the rest would be moot. I began searching Weedmaps in earnest, extending my travel radius to allow for dispensaries further from home. Then one day last week I passed Green Valley Collective in my car for the thousandth time and finally, out of necessity, made the connection that I could be one of those happy-looking customers I saw going in and out of the dispensary’s front doors.
As cannabis businesses on the grey or black market finally feel real pressure to either comply with the law or close down their storefronts, quality dispensaries are revealing themselves to the cannabis-consuming public and setting a positive standard for the industry. These compliant storefronts are like hunks of potent cannabutter separating from water and floating to the top and must be recognized and supported by cannabis consumers or they will vanish, the industry along with them. Compliant cannabis producers and manufacturers similarly require the support of discriminating consumers to survive in the long term. If compliance conforming businesses and high quality products finally succeed in eliminating all unregulated competition, it is safe to assume that consumers will benefit from more standardized pricing and greater product consistency. Cannabis customers at last will be empowered to make rational, informed, economically sound decisions about how to acquire their meds. Once the black market is all but vanquished (it will never be eradicated completely) the leveled industry playing field will enable cannabis businesses to compete fairly for the ultimate prize: repeat customers. It is that simple.
Taking black market dispensaries out of the picture will enable the industry to establish realistic price points for particular products based on supply and demand, affording the consumer a reasonable expectation of paying about the same fair price for a given product at any nearby dispensary. Although recent months have seen the gradual disappearance of black market storefronts and non-compliant items locally, consumers like myself continue to experience significant price-outs and shortages of certain cannabis varieties and products. Compounding the financial burden on consumers are the incredibly hefty recreational use taxes, themselves another set of hurdles that have the potential to sink the entire industry if prices don’t come down in the long term. Shrewd dispensary operators have recognized their customers’ financial limitations and have made the very smart decision to offer consumers regular daily and weekly discounts. There are a few dispensaries I like very much but which I tend to avoid because they only offer a first time customer discount, or no discount at all. It is also unfortunate when a storefront is well stocked with quality items but is not licensed for medical sales, meaning no break on taxes for medical patients such as myself. Marijuana businesses seeking repeat customers and company growth – if not industry survival – would be wise to offer incentives like daily discounts while differentiating between medical and recreational taxes.
Because I purchase dabbable waxes and concentrates primarily, I am often faced with high prices and short supplies and consequently must patronize a handful of local dispensaries to acquire the best possible meds at the lowest prices. When a storefront is able to keep in stock even a small variety of products made by brands I trust at prices I can afford, I tend to stick with that dispensary until things change. To wit, after patronizing a certain local dispensary regularly over the past month I last week finally experienced the inevitable shortages in their supply of dabbable concentrates. What remained on their shelves was of good quality, but they were the same three items I had purchased on my last two trips. Lack of choice can leave a customer feeling like he is settling mindlessly for remnants and not obtaining the precise meds he needs. This runs contrary to the spirit of medical cannabis use. And yet there I was lacking options, feeling a bit like a captive audience. I could have left empty-handed but since I knew the three available items were of excellent quality and reasonably priced, I purchased them again without regret while realizing I needed to shop elsewhere in the short term. The plain truth is that the most successful businesses find ways to circumnavigate distribution shortages or bottlenecks, doing whatever possible to meet consumer needs. These businesses understand that when a customer shows up and a dispensary is out of product, he may go elsewhere. And if another storefront has the products he needs on the first visit, the customer will most likely return to that other dispensary for his future meds.
I try to be a loyal customer to businesses that treat me well because I value good customer service and appreciate the recognition as an essential partner in commerce. Businesses would see no profits and cease to exist without dedicated customers, and yet there are far too many businesses that take shoppers for granted. I won’t return to a dispensary with impatient or discourteous staff – such behavior should not be rewarded with anyone’s patronage. But the last dispensary I’d visited had treated me well and thus before moving on to a new dispensary I felt it appropriate, if not honorable, to give the old storefront another shot. One of the budtenders there affirmed to me that the staff maintained up-to-the-minute accuracy on their Weedmaps menu, so I duly scanned their list one last time and was again disappointed, noting that the dispensary’s concentrates supplies were even more depleted than on my previous visit. I decided that returning to a shrinking supply of waxes would not only be disappointing, but would also rob me of the enjoyment I experience as a consumer taking stock of the different brands and varieties available. I needed to know if there was a comparable, local alternative with a larger selection of reasonably priced dabbable concentrates. I needed options. I did not want to become robotic and habitual about my meds, buying the same products on each visit. And then I remembered that Green Valley Collective was just around the corner, and my prospects suddenly improved.
I looked up Green Valley’s Weedmaps menu and was impressed right away with the wide array of products and varieties they carry. The detailed list included a number of items meeting my particular cannabis consumption needs including several wax concentrates and varieties for dabbing, a selection of Pax ERA pods for vaping, and a robust palette of flower with an emphasis on hybrid strains. Their prices were reasonable, no higher than other local dispensaries and in some cases lower, and they offered different daily discounts. My discount day would be Thursday, when there was a buy one / get one at 20% off regular price (limit 2). I was both relieved and encouraged by the wide selection of concentrates carried at Green Valley Collective and planned my Thursday trip accordingly. Before heading over, I took another long look at Green Valley’s menu and noted a few affordable concentrates of interest to look for. I wasn’t exactly sure about how the dispensary’s first time customer discount worked, but I was confident I’d at least be able to take advantage of the daily deal. I also noticed that they opened at 9am, an hour earlier than most other dispensaries. This was a plus, as I like to do my cannabis shopping in the mornings.
As they were already open, I immediately put on shoes, got in the car and reviewed my mental list of products to look out for at Green Valley Collective. Five minutes later I was driving into the dispensary’s uncharacteristically large rear parking lot recalling my lunch at Coley’s many years prior (jerk chicken, black beans and rice, and bottle of Red Stripe). That sweet and savory memory was the perfect tonic for my usual first time customer jitters, and as I walked across the lot toward the front of the building I felt very much at ease. I noted security cameras posted strategically on the side of the building and appreciated the dispensary’s concern for customer and staff safety. I walked around to the front of the building and approached the entrance. I can’t recall if I was buzzed in by the front desk or if I just walked in through the front doors, but as I entered the lobby, I was almost breathless at the welcoming warmth and openness of the interior. It was not at all what I’d expected and on the whole was unique from other dispensaries I’d patronized. Where other dispensaries were compartmentalized, largely in deference to security concerns, Green Valley had an open floor plan that flowed from front to back and side to side. My recollection is that there was no glass window separating the intake administrator from the lobby, no metal grill through which customer and security were forced to communicate, and most stunningly, part of the wall at the rear of the front desk opened up into the dispensary interior, giving customers a glimpse of their destination while conveying a sense of transparency and trust. Within moments of stepping into the lobby, it was clear to me that whomever designed this dispensary paid especial attention to how energy would flow through the building in a manner resembling feng shui.
The openness and internal flow of the building at Green Valley Collective, as I would discover, are as much a product of the spatial orientation as they are of the warm, luminous lighting that facilitates movement and enables customers to connect freely and transparently with staff and with whatever items of interest they spy in the cases or on the shelves. The thorough array of lights placed thoughtfully throughout the store reveals to the customer a very well organized, uncluttered, clean and functional dispensary. Customers who can see the full field of products and varieties arranged in an orderly, logical display enjoy the ability to compare all options and, with the aid of an informed budtender, make the best possible individualized choices. Customers will also notice new products, brands, and varieties and ask about them, affording budtenders the opportunity to introduce these new items into the mainstream while educating customers and making sales. That kind of thinking is win-win, and the openness and transparency I experienced at Green Valley Collective was a strong statement about the company’s integrity and purpose as well as its commitment to building positive, trusting, long-term relationships with its patrons.
As I entered Green Valley Collective, a friendly intake admin welcomed me with a smile and processed my paperwork while I directed my attention to an iPad stand on my right. Whereas at other pre-ICOs or collectives I’ve had to sign and initial digitally in multiple places, scrolling down past clause after initial-requiring clause, Green Valley’s customer agreement required only a single signature. This small but appreciated simplification of the sign-up process reiterated to me a higher level of trust in the dispensary-customer relationship matching what I’d been struck with as I entered the lobby. I’ve found it somewhat stressful at other dispensaries standing and reading through page after page of a patient/member agreement, initialing each paragraph along the way. It makes me feel like they’re going to bust me for breaking a rule. “See! See!! You initialed clause 8 right here!!” No thanks. Green Valley’s single signature agreement was just right. After I entered my e-mail address on the iPad to complete the sign up, the friendly admin returned my paperwork and handed me a discount card and slip for the budtender, who would be ready momentarily. As I turned for a moment to look at the spacious waiting area I heard my name called and was then buzzed in to the passageway connecting the lobby and the inner dispensary. This passageway is more like a portal of sorts and the only completely sectioned off area in the shop. It is actually kind of cool to walk through because it feels like you are transporting from one part of a spaceship to another.
I walked through the exit door at the south end of the portal and into the dispensary’s inner sanctum to see up close what I had moments ago gazed at from across the building. The openness and transparency I had experienced in the antechamber was magnified all the more now that I was in the midst of the dispensary’s wares. In the second or two after I opened the door I noted again the totally illuminated warmth of the room and its cleanliness and orderliness. Not in a sterile, antiseptic way, but in an open, inclusive, warm and trusting way. The dispensary’s thoughtful design says to the customer, “We want to be sure you have the very best opportunity to see clearly what your product choices are and know everything about that product that the packaging and our budtenders can communicate to you.” As a regular cannabis consumer and dispensary patron, I couldn’t imagine a more welcome message.
As those first few impressionistic seconds faded, Jessica, an engaging budtender with a kind countenance and affable demeanor, greeted me enthusiastically as a first time customer and asked what I wanted to see. I mentioned concentrates and clarified that I was seeking the dabbable variety, not cartridges, and Jessica directed me to the north-west corner of the shop. There are glass cannabis product-containing counters on three sides of the dispensary interior as well as cases and shelves along the walls. Patients await their turn in the middle of the room, giving them a 360 degree view of the items on display. Because I was the only patient at the time, there was no wait. Jessica walked along the perimeter to meet me at the showcase housing various live rosins, shatters, crumbles, bubble hash, diamonds and other dabbable concentrates ranging in price from under $20 for half grams of Flavor crumble to almost $100 for high end extracts like 710 Labs water hash.
I’ve written much about the price of dabbable concentrates and the challenges this presents to consumers, dispensaries and manufacturers. I still hold out hope that as the black market disappears and the industry begins uniformly to adhere to regulatory standards, the price of extracts and distillates will diminish. In the current market, however, the dabbing consumer is left on his own to navigate dispensary menus and weekly discounts in search of the best possible wax products for the lowest cost. I was encouraged by the selection appearing on Green Valley’s Weedmaps menu and thought the prices looked fair and comparable to other dispensaries atop my list. I was extremely pleased to discover that I had been incorrect in my understanding of their first time customer discount, because the Collective gives patients a 20% discount on their first and fifth visits in addition to offering different daily deals. Customers receive a punch card at their first visit to track their progress. It isn’t clear whether customers receive a new punch card after their fifth visit – I will ask next time. I also discovered that if you navigate to their website and provide your e-mail address, they will reply with a coupon for fifteen percent off the customer’s next purchase (I have not confirmed whether this promotion is still valid – it may be old).
With my new customer discount card in hand I surveyed the different waxes and resins on display and tried to correlate them with what I’d seen on Weedmaps. Some items rang a bell, while others did not, and there were a few items listed on the menu that I did not see on the shelves. It is easy to envision the challenges inherent in maintaining up-to-the-minute accuracy on Weedmaps menus, particularly while the industry remains in flux. If the industry survives and grows, there is little doubt that dispensaries will ably maintain fully accurate menus via their own websites and apps, giving customers live updates on stocked items. The good news is that Green Valley’s Weedmaps menu was accurate enough to have previewed the kind of choices I would see there, even if those exact products were no longer in stock. In other words, there were options. I perused the dabbable offerings on display and recognized something I’d seen on the menu: Flavor brand live resin sugar. I’d enjoyed Flavor’s potent and affordable crumble wax previously, having purchased it several times around the corner at the also excellent Zen NoHo dispensary, and was pleased to have the opportunity to try the sugar, reasonably priced at $45/gram (and less with my discount). By reasonably priced, I mean comparable to the lowest prices I’ve seen at similar local dispensaries for tested, labeled and pre-packaged dabbable concentrates. I chose (50/50 hybrid) Cherry OG and (indica dominant hybrid) Mango Sherbert (Sorbet?) grams of sugar while continuing to eye the shelves for an additional pick.
My eyes tracked over to a few varieties of Neutron Genetics live rosin shatter half-gram packages on display and Jessica brought them out of the case to give me a closer look. I found a few strains I liked, but when Jessica searched for the sale product she discovered they had sold out. Jessica was extremely contrite about the mix up and genuinely at a loss for it, assuming all responsibility and assuaging any disappointment on my part, and I continued my search, gazing inquisitively at the shelves’ remaining wax offerings. The 710 Labs badders, rosins, and water hash were priced far out of my league at $80-$90/gram, so I kept my eyes roaming until I noticed items I hadn’t discovered on the Weedmaps menu. On a lower shelf in the case I spied grams of bubble hash by Nasha and considered my options. I’d never tried bubble hash and wasn’t sure about its dabbability. Jessica advised that if I wanted to dab it, I should first grab some wax on the dab tool and then dip the sticky end into the hash to coat it before hitting the banger. The gram of hash cost $35 ($28 with the discount) and Jessica guided me toward the (indica cross) Blue Cheese to meet my nighttime relaxation needs. I continued to peruse the shelves and wondered to myself which customers were those able to afford $90 grams of concentrate. Not me. Jessica was extremely patient while I considered my options and gave me ample time to deliberate while also suggesting alternatives like Nasha’s hash temple balls (I may try next time.) Jessica did not rush me at all and asked if there was anything else I needed even though there were now customers waiting in the mid-store line. I can’t emphasize enough how important Jessica’s patience with me was to my positive first impression of Green Valley Collective.
Patience with cannabis consumers isn’t just good customer service, it is an acknowledgment by the dispensary staff that cadillac concentrates and connoisseur cannabis are not cheap and that consumers should be afforded a reasonable amount of deliberation before making a final choice. Realistically, this principle of budtender-customer patience applies to all dispensary exchanges, because affordability is so relative to a customer’s means, and those budtenders who show the most patience make the most lasting impressions on customers. Green Valley Collective recognizes not just the high cost paid by customers for quality compliant cannabis products, but also the impact of taxes imposed by city and state, which the dispensary responsibly differentiates for its recreational and medical consumers. Other storefronts I’ve patronized have not been clear about taxing customers, and I’ve on a few occasions reluctantly paid recreational taxes even though I am a medical patient. No surprise that I return to these businesses only when other options are unavailable.
Satisfied with the three grams I’d chosen, I tracked Jessica along the length of the counter to the nearest cash register and asked if she wouldn’t mind giving an overview of the store since we had only so far focused on waxes and concentrates. Although another budtender by that time had begun to help waiting customers, there were others still in line, and yet Jessica nonetheless accommodated my request and causally yet methodically identified where in the store they stocked different categories of products. As I followed her description of the room with my eyes I caught a glimpse of the waiting customers, all of whom seemed engaged by the 360 degree view from their perch in the middle of the store. This reconfirmed my initial impression about the wisdom of placing the line in the room’s midpoint – that it is very customer-centered thinking. My recollection is that the last product section described by Jessica contained their CBD selections, and as I took mental note of what I could, Jessica processed my discount card and explained that my savings would offset the taxes plus a little more. My budtender’s thoughtful tax/discount explanation was itself another acknowledgment of and respect for my financial concerns as a customer, and I again appreciated it. To top it off, as she packaged my purchases and wished me well, Jessica explained that I would receive a $1 discount if I brought back the child-proof meds bag on my next visit. Some other dispensaries provide a bag gratis on the first visit and charge a fee if the customer fails to bring the bag back on subsequent visits. This punitive approach has always struck me as in poor taste. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, Green Valley Collective conversely offers customers an incentive to recycle their meds bags. As a customer, I always prefer carrots to sticks. Every. Single. Time.
Since bringing my meds home I’ve had the joy of sampling them all. The Flavor sugars, although moderate in THC content at around 65%, are so terpene-rich that a single pea-sized dab will envelop your body, glaze your eyes and in some ways feel as potent as concentrates 30% higher in THC content. Jessica’s advice about dipping a dab of wax into the bubble hash didn’t pan out, as the hash granules were hardened and compacted. The hash was fresh, having been made only a month prior, but it was not for dabbing. Instead, I’ve at times enjoyed chunky scoops of the Blue Cheese atop crumbled Tangie moonrocks in a glass pipe, at other times atop hybrid moonrock bits in an iced beaker bong, and I’ve also sandwiched scoops between layers of Durban Poison grounds for dry vaping in my AirVapeX. This last method has proven the most enjoyable, as the bubble hash’s incense-like sweetness complements and balances Durban Poison’s piney, diesel taste, while the heavy indica qualities of the Blue Cheese moderate the Poison’s overstimulating tendencies. I’ve looked further into the dabbability of bubble hash but decided that it would be better used with flower or by itself either in a pipe, bong, or in the AirVape X. I look forward to checking out Nasha’s other products, its temple ball hash in particular, and will keep an eye on Green Valley’s Weedmaps menu and hope that they’ll add Nasha to their inventory. And I’ll look forward to returning to Green Valley Collective on Thursdays and Fridays for their daily deals – on Friday’s customers can pick their own deal from the other daily offerings – and will be a very satisfied return customer if what I experienced on my first trip is matched from visit to visit. My superlative first trip to Green Valley Collective this week tells me I have every reason to expect it will.