The first thing I noticed as I parked in front of March and Ash, a licensed cannabis dispensary just off a busy commercial road in San Diego, was that the lot was nearly full. It was a Friday morning in January.
The second thing I noticed was the presence of two security guards. One cast a protective eye on the customers entering and leaving. The other checked my bag at the front door.
I walked through a lounge featuring stylish furniture to show my ID at the counter. Every legal dispensary must ensure that its customers are 21 and up, and that its products comply with evolving state regulations. My name was entered into the dispensary’s computer system and I was promptly met by marketing guru Cassidy Bartolomei for my tour.
The vibe of the place and the people thus far? Warm and inviting.
March and Ash is owned by two San Diego natives and long-time cannabis advocates Blake Marchand and Jonathan Saco. The dispensary opened its doors in September 2018 to recreational and medical consumers during the first year of adult-use legalization of cannabis in California. In addition to the many medical marijuana dispensaries already in operation statewide, roughly 10,000 commercial cannabis licenses have been issued in the state since voters approved the legalization measure for recreational marijuana, Proposition 64.
Bartolomei swiped her employee badge on an electronic pad separating the lounge from the retail area, and as we entered she talked about the three driving forces that inform the dispensary’s mission: to prioritize cannabis education, to provide a safe shopping environment, and to ensure that customers are satisfied with their cannabis experience in and out of the store. March and Ash’s customer base is roughly equal, gender-wise. Some customers are cannabis connoisseurs, while others are newbies. Their median age is 50.
The dispensary’s mission: prioritize cannabis education, provide a safe shopping environment and ensure customers are satisfied with their cannabis experience in and out of the store.
The dispensary offers a full spectrum of cannabis products that meet state regulations, from the highest-THC strains of flower and concentrates to non-psychoactive CBD oils and tinctures, and much in between. Shelves are filled with thousands of choices.
“It’s not this back-alley kind of thing,” Bartolomei said. “Not only is it legal now…” she gestured to the beautifully laid-out, 2,200-square-foot retail space surrounding us, “it’s [like] a Nordstrom’s shopping experience.”
I had to agree.
Bartolomei pointed out the island at the center of the shop where several cannabis concierges (the dispensary’s term for budtenders) chatted with customers. From the island, also known as the “flower bar,” a rich scent emanated — something best described as a blend of sticky cannabis flower and high-end retail.
Next, we strolled through the edibles section. Artisanal, infused chocolates are displayed alongside brownies, sublingual strips, mints and infused drinks. Some drinks are fruity, or carbonated like soda, and others are alcohol-free beers with THC.
Then we toured the CBD room, which features vapes, oils and tinctures to help with anxiety, pain relief and digestive issues. In addition to a small section with CBD products for pets, you can also find personal care products, such as balms, chapsticks, suppositories, massage oils and personal lubricants.
Yes, there are CBD- and even THC- infused intimate products. I’ve been to a number of dispensaries since adult-use took effect in my home state, but the sheer variety of cannabis entrepreneurship still astounds me.
She suggested that customers keep CBD on-hand just in case they accidentally take too much THC. “The CBD will balance you out,” she said.
Bartolomei also pointed out how widely appealing pre-rolls have become because consumers can try new strains without committing to a gram or more.
March and Ash, like many dispensaries, also sells clones for at-home cultivation. According to the laws in California, adults can grow up to six plants for personal use.
Jessica Quezada is a cannabis concierge at March and Ash. When asked how she interacts with someone new to cannabis, she had a lot to say. She said she first determines whether they’ve ever smoked before, and if they’re interested in smoking flower or vaping. If neither, she directs them toward an edible while cautioning that a smaller dose is always best to start. The effects of edibles are known to last longer, and are often more potent than smoking or vaping.
“Wait your hour and some change,” she advised, “because you can’t take it back, but you can always add more.”
Mixing alcohol and cannabis is not advised.
For most edibles and drinks sold in the legal market a serving is usually considered to be 10 mg of THC, though 5 mg is an advisable place to start if you’re new to consuming cannabis.
Also, as you know, high-THC products are currently prohibited in the Carolinas.
Different products, Quezada continued, will affect people differently. For instance, Kushy Punch is a gummy product using a full-spectrum oil that’s known for potency.
“It all depends on the oils and the ingredients, and how your enzymes end up breaking those down,” she explained. What’s strong for one customer may be next to nothing for another. She suggested that customers keep CBD on-hand just in case they accidentally take too much THC. “The CBD will balance you out,” she said.
I asked Quezada about the best parts of working at a dispensary. “It’s awesome,” she said, “meeting the different kinds of people, ranging from patients who are sick — and cannabis changes their lives — to people who just want to have fun. It’s not exclusive to anyone. It’s just a really open, big community.”
After speaking with Quezada and Bartolomei, I browsed a bit on my own. An employee was stocking product in the edibles section, almost like at my local Trader Joe’s or Walgreens. Around me, customers perused the shelves with interest, chatting with one another or with cannabis concierges.
I found March and Ash to be a place with a curious mixture of the exciting and the ordinary. So, I did what came naturally: I shopped.
Danielle Simone Brand
Danielle Simone Brand, an independent journalist based in California, writes about cannabis, homesteading and parenting. Her work appears on TheWeek.com, Kveller.com and ChopraCenter.com. She is writing for Carolina Cannabis News as Part of our "Voices from the Green Side" series.