1. No shady scenes. We've all been there. A 7/11 parking lot, late at night, where every Slurpee-buying shopper looks like an undercover cop. You've just parked your buddy's car near an apartment downtown where all the neighbors know why you're walking towards that particular door. Or worse, a friend of a friend who just got out of jail has some killer stuff that will make the whole crosstown drive worth it. You name it -- we all have a variety of reasons why we will go the extra mile to procure the best stuff possible, sometimes even when the risks are higher than you are. Now, my closest dispensary is eight blocks away -- a small industrial trailer where they may only have seven to 12 different varieties of medical marijuana -- but I go to the old reliable, my mainstay downtown on Geary. Funny story: I was on my way home on the bus with three clones in an odorless paper bag. There were two other dudes on the bus who were also clutching paper bags. Their all-knowing nods and smiles made me feel like we all belong to the same book club.) Going to a dispensary is incredibly safe compared to my almost 40 years of scoring on the street. 2. Choice. At my mainstay they have about 20 to 30 varieties each of indicas, sativas and now, the very popular hybrids, for all the baby bears out there that need something in the middle, stacked like good friends next to each other in five-gallon mayonnaise jars in a glass cabinet-counter. Some days the choices are overwhelming. I am more apt to ask one of my budtenders what they like. If some of the guys I've got to know over the years are working behind the counter, like the Big Kahuna or Mikey the Great, I ask them what's good for back pain or if I have to work, what won't heavy me out and allow me to sit and type for 14 hours. [Editor's note: Man, does that sound familiar.] Once a personal relationship is established with your budtender, you're golden. They tell me what medicine is going to work for me best, and I've never gone wrong. Going to a dealer, if you don't like what they have or turn down their product, it hurts their feelings. At the dispensary, they could care less. There's another person behind you that will take the weed you said "no" to. 3. No reason to stock up. Before I had my card, if my stash was getting low, below half an ounce, I'd have to start making calls to ensure I had product for the future. It was always a process of never running out. Many times I bought marijuana when I didn't need it or particularly needed to have it, but the idea of running out, or worse -- not being able to get any marijuana because the town was dry or my Man was out of town -- would be unacceptable to me. The whole deal about instant gratification is getting it when you want it. With a dispensary, I sometimes smoke less, really, because I know the pot store is going to be there tomorrow. There's no rush, man. It's all cool. One doesn't need to maintain a bulging inventory unless one likes to have a lot of different shit around the crib to smoke. Total transparency -- dispensaries are like the grocery store. You go in with a budget, but if you're stoned and have the munchies, you spend more than you'd planned to. Same thing with dispensaries. You go in for a Q.T. for the Trainwreck is off the rails and the Dragon's Breath is out of this world. It's easy to spend another hundo without trying. And -- mark my words -- you don't want to go in there sober. You spend less when you're already high. Sober, you feel like a Make-A-Wish kid walking into Disneyland. That first time walking into a dispensary? There's nothing like it. 4. You don't have to buy there. After getting my medical marijuana card, I Googled the pot shop locations and made maps for day trips in an effort to explore all the Magic Kingdoms waiting for this new patient. After checking out the third or fourth place I went to, I slowly realized that I didn't have to score from every place I entered. If a dispensary's medicine wasn't up to my standards, or there was just something funky about the place that I didn't like (hello, south of Market), I can leave. The great thing about having a medical marijuana card, if you don't like the customer service or any other thing that directs you to one enterprise over another -- why someone prefers Whole Foods over Trader Joe's for example -- those things exist in the pot world, too. Competition makes for a buyer's market. One of the pot shops here in town has coined the phrase "Home of the four-gram eighths" as a marketing tool to compete with the other guys. For half a gram, I don't know, but for some people... Speaking of other guys -- growing up, this one guy from the Midwest I once bought from sold what he called his "exotics," the good stuff, in bags that weighed five grams -- but he sold them as quarter-ouncers. Why? Because he could. 5. You can get exactly what you want. I made the mistake for my first few months of getting the strongest medicine available. I'd walk in and ask one of the boys for their most potent strain of Indy. The real dick-in-the-road, paralysis-inducing, Snoop-Dogg-crippling WEED that was guaranteed to hurt. Then I'd spend the rest of the day on the floor. Now if I need some speedy stuff to write with, or some nighttime stuff that makes John Stewart funnier but still understandable, I know what to ask for -- or, as I said, let my budtender make a recommendation. You don't take antibiotics when you need a sleeping pill, do you? One shouldn't take an indica when a nice sativa or hybrid is what you actually need. It's 2011 -- time for this stuff to make sense.