Two years deep into my gig as medical-marijuana/dispensary reviewer, it still has excitement and adventure written all over it. I love the mom-and-pop nature of the medicinal-cannabis business in Washington, and I love and enjoy the degree of variation among access points. A few folks may be looking forward to the gray standardization of marijuana sales that will probably come with the implementation of general legalization at the end of this year, but in my mind, the variety of patient experiences available--and the ability to customize your experiences, to find your own comfort zone and your own favorite shops--are valuable assets which we shouldn't take for granted. This is especially true now that state-licensed retail pot stores are on the way.
Talk as they may about how I-502 isn't supposed to impact the medical-marijuana scene (and proponents did plenty of that), it seems inevitable that the standardization which will accompany legal sales to all adults will impact the way things are done at dispensaries. What I hope doesn't happen is a "Which strain gets you highest?" dumbing-down of the medical-marijuana scene; the imposition of I-502's tax structure on the medical-marijuana community could be equally disastrous.
From the perspective of two years' experience, I sometimes wonder just how different a review some of the early access points would have gotten had I a few more shops under my belt before visiting. For instance, Conscious Care Cooperative's since-closed outlet in Lake Forest Park is damn lucky they were the first dispensary I ever visited as a paid reviewer.
I didn't realize just how badly out of line were CCC's $20-a-gram prices until I visited a few more shops. That they forgot to give me a free gram for being a new patient irked me, but I went a little easier on them back in February 2011 than I would now. The same goes for my 30-minute wait in their reception area; I'd have more to say about that these days.
As for those per-gram prices, one thing I see much oftener now than I did two years ago is across-the-board $10/gram donations. The opportunity to buy top-shelf cannabis for $10 a gram is not something our fellow patients in California or Colorado get to enjoy very often, and the level of healthy competition among Puget Sound-area shops is one big reason that's true.
There have been far more high points (in every sense of the word) than low in this two-year adventure, but when I hit a low point--such as at the G.A.M.E. in White Center--shops were called to task. Patients need to know when a place has horrible, even hostile, "customer service." And when one unfortunate shop (Purple Cross, since out of business) couldn't come up with even a crumb of weed the day I visited, that got written up too.
But such experiences are very much the exception, not the rule. The good, solid shops that quietly meet patients' needs every day are the real heroes. I don't think that will change with legalization.