Visiting a Medical Marijuana Dispensary

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

Many people who are considering medical marijuana for pain relief are reluctant to visit a marijuana dispensary, fearing it might be in a bad part of town or that they may encounter some unsavory characters.

Since I am a home grower of marijuana, I felt it was best to visit a dispensary in my home state of Rhode Island to get a fresh, first hand view of what the experience is like. Through the kindness of Barbara Pescowolido at the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, this visit was made possible.

The first thing that I noticed was the professional layout that included informed, pleasant and knowledgeable employees who were there to greet me. There is 24 hour surveillance of the premises, a well-lit parking area, and a professionally trained security team.

I had to show to identification, which requires a Rhode Island medical marijuana patient or caregiver card,  and another form of ID, like a driver's license. After my information was put into the computer and confirmed, I was buzzed into the center. If a patient is not able to walk without assistance, he or she can be accompanied by a licensed caregiver, who would also be required to present credentials.

Every new patient is given an orientation session that includes a one-to-one educational conversation, and a folder of information to take home and review for future visits.The folder includes the different methods of ingesting marijuana, the concentrated forms available, their laboratory testing procedures, how to use your medicine sensibly, and a form that explains cannabis and the difference between sativa and indica plants.

There’s also a patient journal so you can record the type of marijuana you tried, how you ingested it, the date/time of taking, and the duration/effect. This is to help both the patient and staff make educated decisions on your next purchase.

Also included is a “Good Neighbor Agreement” the patient is to read and sign. You are expected to follow the guidelines to be able to continue using their services. They include:

  • Not to smoke or consume marijuana on site or in the parking lot
  • Refrain from using cellphones or cameras while in the building
  • No minors allowed unless they are a patient and accompanied by a parent or legal guardian
  • No minors left in your vehicle unattended while visiting the center
  • No animals except guide/service animals are allowed inside
  • Keep all medicine and money our of plain sight
  • No weapons allowed.
  • Do not invite individuals who are not patients or caregivers, unless special arrangements are made with management
  • Do not throw litter in the parking lot or surrounding area
  • Marijuana purchased in the center is not for resale. Any member found reselling will have their membership revoked
  • Keep all conversations respectful and appropriate

New patients also learn about a wide range of free ancillary services, such as massage, reiki, hydrotherapy bed, cultivation, and classes on cooking and methods of consumption. There are also product showcases and live demo’s that include weekly open house tours, 1:1 consultations, loyalty rewards program, a community newsletter and a cannabis library/DVD section.

The next step for me was to take a number while relaxing in a tastefully designed waiting area. When you are called up to the counter, you get to work 1:1 with a knowledgeable patient advisor/employee.

A menu hangs over the counter sharing what medications are available. A variety of edibles, capsules, concentrates in syringes, flowers, exilers, and topicals are for sale.

This center has come up with a novel idea. For just $20, you can purchase a sampler packet that includes small samples of medicine that includes THC capsules, CBD capsules, elixir, a cookie, hard candy and gummy bears. This allows the patient to return home and try these different methods to decide what fits best for their needs.

The center is still not able to grow all that is needed to accommodate patients, so there are times customers return for a specific product to find it is not available. It is difficult for the center to have to rely on others growing for them, so their goal is to one day be totally self sufficient.


Patients are allowed to purchase 2 ½ ounces every fifteen days. Records are kept in a computer so that no one ever goes over that amount unintentionally or intentionally. You are able to check the center’s website for a "menu" of the current product being sold, but you are not allowed to purchase online.  

Prices presently range from $25 to $50 for an eighth of an ounce of product. Prices can fluctuate if the marijuana tests out to be stronger. All marijuana, either grown on site or purchased from growers, is tested and cleaned.

My experience there was pleasant and educational. For a closer look at the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, you can watch this short video the center has on YouTube:

If you live in a state that allows medical marijuana, but does not permit you to grow your own or have a caregiver grow for you, then a dispensary like the one I visited can probably meet your needs. But each state has different laws and regulations for both patients and dispensaries, so your experience may differ from mine.

Visiting a dispensary and trying medical marijuana for pain relief could result in a significant improvement in your quality of life.

Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis.

Ellen and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but is still technically illegal under federal law. Even in states where it is legal, doctors may frown upon marijuana and drop patients from their practice for using it.