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Old problem: you had nowhere to buy marijuana. But now that it's legal, you can buy it at any properly licensed medical dispensary, tax-free, until January 1. (For a full list of those dispensaries, check out this handy guide from the Oregon Health Authority.)

New problem: you know nothing about buying marijuana. 

To help you out, we talked to Norris Monson—a member of the Measure 91 Finance Committee, cofounder of the Oregon Cannabis PAC, industry consultant, and co-owner of Cultivated Industries, a production facility in Northeast Portland—about what new buyers should know before they hit the stores. Here's what he says. 

1. Know the basics of strains.

Indica strains have a so-called "couch-lock" effect, and are known for heavy, sedative highs. Sativas are more energetic and creative and offer what Monson calls a "day-time" high. And then there are hybrids, combinations between the two. Figuring out what you like is based on experimentation and personal preference.

"The mistake I see people making a lot is asking for the highest in THC, assuming that is going to be the strongest," says Monson. "I would ignore the THC numbers and let your nose do the shopping. It’s the flavor, the exhale that should be part of the enjoyment. It’s like someone who drinks wine and enjoys the flavor, versus someone who’s looking just for the buzz."

2. Think of strains as grape varietals

It's crucial to recognize that—just as two vineyards can produce very different pinot noir—the name of the grower is just as important as the name of the strain. 

"One of the things new customers probably don’t recognize is that growing practices impact the finished quality," says Monson. "I could take a plant and make a clone, and give it to my brother, and depending on how he cares for it could very different. Over-fertilized cannabis, for instance, won’t burn very well and will give you a sore throat. It will burn into a black lump of coal—versus properly flushed and dried cannabis will burn into a light grey ash that won’t hurt the back of your throat."

Monson recommends new consumers stick to "brand name" growers while they figure out what works for them. When in doubt, ask the budtender. "I generally ask the budtenders what they like and let them show me."

3. Start a journal

As you're gaining knowledge, Monson recommends starting a journal and jotting down notes about the strains and growers you try. Over time, this will help you figure out what you like and which growers you trust. 

4. Beware of pesticides

Monson says that two trends have contributed to rise of pesticide use among growers. One, the relatively loose, informal regulation of the medical marijuana industry; two, the drop in prices over the past five years, which has forced many growers to find new ways to compete. But the effect of pesticides on cannabis plants is not well understood yet, and alternatives—like using insects to control diseases and pests—do exist.

"There are no registered pesticides for use on cannabis," explains Monson. "There are pesticides that are labeled for use in edibles, like tomatoes, and there are pesticides that are labeled for use in ornamentals. And those have a lot of heavy metals because they don’t have to worry about it in ornamentals. That's probably not good for you."

5. Research the growers before you buy

There are several organizations that certify processors and farms that they are safe for consumers. Monson recommends new buyers look for brand names with Clean Green Certification. “That’s probably a good place to start.”

6. Always inspect the goods

Monson recommends giving your purchases a quick visual inspection before committing. "The flower is made up of calyxes, and out of those grow two little hairs called pistils," says Monson. "In my experience, cannabis flowers that are high quality and have fully matured has large calyxes with orange or red pistils coming out of them. If you pick it too early, you’ll end up with something with very small calyxes and the hairs protruding from them will be white."

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