Chem Tales: A Visitor’s Guide to Cannabis in San Francisco

Visiting town for a few days? Here's how to get high.

Getting stoned in San Francisco is not a new trend.

Stretching back to the Summer of Love in 1969, cannabis and our fair city have always shared a bit of common DNA. Most directly, San Francisco’s reputation as a haven for the LGBTQ community set the stage for activists responding to the AIDS epidemic to make decriminalizing cannabis a top priority. In 1996, California passed the first medical marijuana law in the U.S.

In 2018, the situation took another huge step forward with the advent of legalized adult-use (sometimes known as recreational) cannabis. Anyone age 21 or older is now welcome to buy and consume cannabis in California. That means international visitors too, provided you have a valid form of ID to present.

With so many options to consider when it comes to cannabis in San Francisco, it can easily feel overwhelming. Here’s a beginner’s guide to help you make the most of the local pot scene.

Where to smoke

San Francisco is a liberal place, but that doesn’t mean you can light a joint while strolling through Union Square. In fact, it’s technically illegal to smoke cannabis anywhere other than your private residence or in a licensed consumption lounge. It wouldn’t be accurate to say this law is enforced very stringently, given people pretty much smoke everywhere, but that doesn’t mean you should too.

Assuming your lodgings won’t suffice, your best bet is to visit a consumption lounge. There are several in San Francisco, including Moe Green’s, Harvest on Geary, and Barbary Coast. Rules vary slightly by dispensary, but expect to purchase an item on-site for access to a lounge.

If you prefer to take your chances, the current penalty in California for consuming cannabis in public is $100, though it does jump up to $250 if you’re caught smoking somewhere where tobacco is already prohibited. Whatever you do, be sure to respect state law that requires you not light up within 1,000 feet of a school. Not only is that a $250 fine, it’s also just a bad look.

What to buy

First things first: how do you want to ingest? Nowadays, cannabis is available in everything from balms to bath soaks to brownies.

If you’re not a seasoned consumer, feel free to keep your focus on the basics. One appealing option is the pre-roll, which means you won’t have to worry about papers, a grinder, or a place to put your joint together. You can’t go wrong with local growers like Sonoma County’s Elyon Cannabis. Elyon’s “Cookies” pre-roll is a great option for a group to share, while Sunday Goods offers a variety pre-roll tin that comes in quite handy if you want to try a few strains.

For those who fancy an edible, remember that some products can be extremely potent. Many are not meant to be eaten all at once! Regulations now ensure that things like chocolate bars now have score marks to delineate doses. Still, you can never go wrong by starting with too little and adding more from there. One easy way to get started is to grab a tin of Kiva’s Terra Bites, chocolate-coated blueberries or espresso beans each dosed with 5 mg of THC.

Can’t stand chocolate? Not to worry. Another great choice are the THC-infused marshmallows from Mellows. Available in flavors like Raspberry Rose Lychee and Peanut Butter Pretzel, Mellows come individually packaged and stress a low-dose approach.

Where to Shop

If you’re going to walk into a dispensary, be prepared to show ID at the door. A government passport or identification card will do the trick. You will need to register with each dispensary you visit — a cumbersome but legally mandated requirement. Your information is used only to prove that the dispensary is following the rules, but if you want to keep your name out of any cannabis-related activity you engage in, you won’t be able to purchase legal pot.

By and large, the biggest difference between dispensaries is their individual vibes. You can expect a fairly similar menu at most places you visit, but the energy varies greatly. If you like things with a bit of aesthetic swank, try Moe Green’s or any of the Apothecarium’s three locations. For a neighborhood feel, there’s SPARC (two San Francisco locations) or the aforementioned Harvest. Grass Roots has been around since 1999 and should always be included in any roundup of city dispensaries given its mantle as the oldest one still in continuous operation. Plus their staff is awesome!

Your other option is to use a delivery service like Eaze. Many dispensaries also offer delivery, while Eaze works more like an interface (think Uber for cannabis). In order to have cannabis delivered to your door,  you’ll need proper identification and an address. That’s really about it! Deliveries can sometimes take as little as ten minutes, though waits and fees fluctuate based on demand. If convenience is your top concern, it will likely come as no surprise that when it comes to cannabis and San Francisco, there is indeed an app for that.

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