Recreational marijuana is legal in CT. This is what it's like to shop for it.

Weed is legal for adult-use in Connecticut, so we sent a reporter to find out what the cannabis buying experience is like.

Photo of Daniel Figueroa IV

Kris Stock didn’t have to go to work on Tuesday. Instead, the actor/model-turned Uber driver had a date with a Fruity Pebbles-crusted donut and 3.5 grams (not all at once) of Connecticut’s newest commodity — retail cannabis.

“I’m old school,” Stock said. “I used to work in a head shop where if you said the word ‘marijuana,’ you had to get out. This is kind of, I don’t know, surreal for me. This is just something I never thought would happen.”

After 2021 legislation legalized recreational cannabis use for adults 21 and over, doors finally opened to Connecticut’s first recreational-use dispensaries Tuesday. In late 2022, the state reported nine dispensaries completed the licensing process for retail sales. But only seven were up and running throughout the state on the first day of sales.

Customers wait to make a purchase of an eighth of an ounce of flower on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

Customers wait to make a purchase of an eighth of an ounce of flower on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

Daniel Figueroa IV/Hearst Connecticut Media

Retailers braced themselves for — and warned customers of — extended waits and long lines. But the expected rush didn’t happen. Some locations reported between 40 and 50 patients lined up for opening, but the rest of the day saw steady flows and a simple process.

“I went on the website, typed in what I wanted, confirmed order and that was it,” Stock said. “It’s so super simple. In and out in less than a minute, maybe two.”

A steel drum band plays on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in Branford on Jan. 10, 2023.

A steel drum band plays on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in Branford on Jan. 10, 2023.

Daniel Figueroa IV/Hearst Connecticut Media

Stock lives in Hamden. He said he placed the order online around 11 a.m., drove to RISE, a retail dispensary in Branford, and was out before noon. 

Customers have two options for purchasing. They can pre-order online or select items in-store. Either way, only two things are needed to purchase cannabis — government issued identification and payment. Most locations, like RISE, are set up to handle cash or debit transactions. Credit is not accepted for cannabis purchases.

An eighth of an ounce of flower purchased on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

An eighth of an ounce of flower purchased on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

Daniel Figueroa IV/Hearst Connecticut Media

All retail customers first check-in at the door before entering an anteroom with a glass-paned counter for medical customers to check in. Retail customers at RISE proceed through another door where budtenders (the marijuana equivalent of a bartender or barista) greet you. Customers who purchased online are directed to the registers where they can pick up an order. In-store purchasers make their way over to touch screen monitors to build a cart.

Those in the know are free to select what they want. But anyone with questions can work closely with one of the budtenders.

“We take them from the threshold and walk them through, take them to the kiosk and ask any questions,” Daniel Bolton, who works in marketing for RISE, said. “We really curate their order for what will work for them. We want them to achieve the effect they’re looking for.”

Customers have a few options. They can choose either concentrated oil in the form of a vape cartridge, flower, or pre-roll joints. One joint, weighing about a gram, sold for $18 Tuesday. Depending on size, cartridges ranged from around $50 for a half-gram cartridge up to $98 for a full gram. Eighth-ounce containers of flower were around $50. Customers are limited to purchasing the equivalent of ¼-ounce of flower per transaction.

Representatives from RISE said longevity of product will vary from user to user. A one-gram joint can get an average smoker through a single usage or be broken into two or three. The 1/8-ounce serving of flower can last a week or two. Vapes are a little more scientific. They are designed to last for about 150 seconds.

Free donuts available on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

Free donuts available on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

Daniel Figueroa IV/Hearst Connecticut Media

Some edibles are also available for retail sales, but were not in stock on Tuesday at RISE.

John Turcotte, a RISE budtender, said choosing product depends on the desired outcome. The product comes in two strains. Sativas, he said, can provide a bit more energy and stimulation, while indicas offer more relaxation. Hybrid strains are also offered. 

“If I wanted to clean or do a set of errands, I would recommend a sativa that might be good,” Turcotte said. “It’s basically, try the product, see what you like because one sativa might not be the same as another.”

Customers can find information regarding each strain on the company’s website when making an order or at a kiosk. Each product lists its strain. Connecticut has pharmacological descriptors, so you’ll see names like “Indicol E” instead of its more common names like OG Kush or Head Cracker. The product also lists the THC content, an indication of its potency, and can include information on terpenes, CBD content and other cannabinoids contained in the flower.

Budtenders help a customer on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

Budtenders help a customer on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

Daniel Figueroa IV/Hearst Connecticut Media

“Terpenes are like the ancillary chemicals. They help drive the train in a sense,” Turcotte said. “The THC is the liftoff that gets the engine going and help get you there. These chemicals work synergistically with the THC to make you happy, calm or relaxed depending on what you’re looking for.”

Turcotte said once you’ve picked the strain you choose how to ingest. He said he likes the “high” effect smoking flower provides, but also enjoys the clarity and convenience of a vape.

“Those were convenient for when I was bowling,” he said. “I was a medical patient. I had a herniated disc and I had pain. There’s no smell or anything, so those worked perfectly when I was bowling.”

After building an order, customers make their way to a checkout line, which, on Tuesday, was a clear path to a full contingent of cashiers. 

Even customers making in-store purchases breezed through. Claire Vissers came from Killingworth to buy at RISE. She was parked, through the store and back in her car with an eighth of flower in under 10 minutes. The longest portion of the trip was spent talking to the budtender about her experiences buying at Nova Farms, a dispensary in Massachusetts. 

An eighth of an ounce of flower purchased on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

An eighth of an ounce of flower purchased on the first day of retail cannabis sales at RISE in  Branford  on Jan. 10, 2023.

Daniel Figueroa IV/Hearst Connecticut Media

She said the options were broader and the prices were better. Stock said he bought in Massachusetts as well. Retail cannabis has been in operation there since 2018 (its been legal since 2016). Stock said the prices in Massachusetts were better, but the staff at RISE was much more helpful and friendly, he said. He said other states’ budtenders seemed more jaded and less willing to help.

Still, Vissers said she was happy to see retail sales open up in Connecticut, even with a bit of a higher price tag.

“It’s safer than if I had to go to New Haven and meet some random guy or girl,” she said. “I would rather pay the extra 25 bucks for an eighth and know that it came from somewhere safe.” 

On Tuesday, Nova Farms had a selection of eighths priced from around $20 to around $45. But RISE’s Bolton said Connecticut customers can expect prices to drop as supply increases and more stores open.

But aside from logisitics like parking — and the steel drum band and free donuts that greeted customers opening day — customers can expect similar products and experiences as Connecticut’s retail cannabis industry begins to light up.

Dispensaries advise customers to check inventory online before heading to a shop.