For better or for worse, not all dispensaries are created equal. So once you have your medical marijuana card, choosing the right one can take some time. Sure, some might be equally good but different only because they specialize in certain products or attract a different crowd. But there are definitely good and bad dispensaries.

As going to the right dispensary is important in order to get the right medicine for you, our team at Doctor Frank have created a small checklist of things you should look out for when trying to find the right one.

1. Lab Testing of All Products

Unfortunately, there aren’t any requirements for dispensaries to test their cannabis-based products in LA. The opposite is the case in Nevada, where all dispensary products are mandatorily lab-tested, and it could be argued that this has resulted in a better quality of both product and dispensary. Sadly, the California government seems more concerned with ensuring that cannabis-infused edibles don’t look too much like sweets as opposed to testing for pesticides and heavy metals in cannabis flowers.

However, we should not expect government to have their priorities straight. Dispensaries, on the other hand, probably should. This means rigorous testing of all their cannabis flowers and extracts for pathogens (e.g. mold spores), checking to see if their edibles are appropriately labelled, testing cannabis for cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles and having a really good grower/co-op providing the dispensary with cannabis. The dispensary should be willing to share this information with you.

2. Reputation Among Healthcare Professionals

Do doctors and nurses know about the dispensary you’re going to? Do they have good words to say about it? Do they know a doctor, nurse or any other health professional who works at the dispensary? If the answer's “yes” to all three questions, then you may just well have a decent dispensary on your hands.

3. The Staff

The staff at the dispensary should know all about the products they are selling. Now, we don’t expect them to be trained doctors, but it would be ideal if the staff knew a thing or two about what conditions cannabis can help treat, as this can help them give more informed advice. They should also know what effect each of the dispensary's products has, if not first-hand then at least by asking others.

The staff should also do all the basics you’d expect of any other retail business, like weighing whatever you’re buying, storing the cannabis in the best way possible (usually well-aerated, moisture-free mason jars), listening to your concerns and offering good customer service.

5 Signs Of A Good Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Another good way of seeing if a dispensary is any good is the time-honored tradition of asking the staff questions, whether in-person, over the phone or via email. A few suggestions for questions could be things like, “Do you test your plants for pesticides, heavy metals, mold, bacteria and other pathogens?” and, “What have people said about using topical creams for pain and inflammation?” Also basics like, “What strain and method of ingestion would you recommend a first-timer?”

This might sound unusual, but another interesting way to gage a dispensary's quality is asking, “Is there anything you’d recommend a child or a senior suffering from, say, epilepsy or cancer in your dispensary?” The best dispensaries may very well have something for those shrewd clients. After all, parents tend to want to give the best they can for their children, and older people can often be quite discerning of quality!

Staff at a good dispensary ought to be able to help you feel informed and relaxed. While nobody can be expected to know everything about the cutting-edge medical marijuana research that’s going on at the moment, it stands to reason that knowing the basic science behind cannabis ought to be one of the most important things staff should know about.

4. Other Activities & Education

A good dispensary should provide activities and some amenities for customers, as well as teaching them all about the cannabis plant. This means providing classes on how to grow your own cannabis at home, educating people about cutting-edge cannabis science and research wherever possible, offering group activities, organizing fundraising events for charities and providing pain-management programs  (it’s not all just cannabis, you know - things like art & music classes, meditation and good diet can also help patients).

5 Signs Of A Good Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Ideally, a good dispensary should be more like a community center than a pot shop -- a place where people in the cannabis community can get together and break bread with one another. That approach shows that the dispensary has more than just profit on its mind.

5. Others Talk About Them

Online reviews can be helpful, but as we all know, they can also be gamed. This is especially true when there’s no real regulation around at the moment in California. Asking other people what their favorite dispensary or dispensaries are and why can help inform your decisions. While popularity doesn’t always equal quality, sometimes the voice of the market turns out to be rather good advice.

Frankly, there’s a lot of disparity between dispensaries. Some will provide all sorts of services, whereas others will just be “in-and-out” outfits designed for quick purchases. This means that there will be several dispensaries that are great, lots that are subpar, and many in the middle wondering whether they’re trending up or down. Finding the right dispensary will likely be a chore, but one that’s worth taking on.