Our annual "test of the tokes" at Bay Area dispensaries
Welcome to our 2011 Cannabis Club Guide. We've added four new clubs to our updated guide, a continuation of last year's.
As I created my list of the clubs I planned to review, I found abundant online resources such as San Francisco Cannabis Clubs and Weed Tracker. But an even better indicator of how mainstream this industry has become were the extensive listings and reviews on Yelp.com.
I combined that information with recommendations from a variety of sources I interviewed to develop my list, which is incomplete and entirely subjective, but nonetheless a good overview of the local industry and the differences among the clubs.
Also, like our restaurant reviewers, I didn't identify myself as a journalist on my visits, preferring to see how the average customer is treated — and frankly, I was amazed at the high level of friendly, knowledgeable customer service at just about every club. To comply with city law, all the clubs are fully accessible by those with disabilities.
So, with that business out of the way, please join me on my tour of local cannabis clubs, in the (random) order that I visited them.
The San Francisco Patient and Resource Center, or SPARC (1256 Mission, SF) immediately set a new standard for dispensaries when it opened last August, combining a stunningly beautiful facility with deep connections to the medical marijuana community and a strong commitment to taking care of patients and moving the movement forward.
Even the casual observer can see what a unique place this is. A selection of almost three dozen bud varietals is presented in the style of a Chinese apothecary, each strain laboratory-tested for strength and purity and labeled with THC and CBD levels. The facility was lovingly designed from scratch with state-of-the-art humidors and security systems, creating an environment that is warm, friendly, and secure, with more employees per customer than other clubs.
Below the surface, SPARC is also setting a standard. Founder Erich Pearson and others involved with the club have been movement leaders for many years and they have deep connections with growers, patient groups, and the progressive political community. So they offer everything from free acupuncture and other services to generous compassionate giving programs to strong support for all aspects of the vertically-integrated collective.
But it is the experience of visiting that is most striking. Get expert advice on choosing from a huge range on indoor and outdoor strains and then settle into one of the tables, load a bowl into the high-end Volcano vaporizer, and taste the fruits of SPARC's expertise.
There are always lots of great deals to choose from, from one-pound bags for baking for $300 to eighths of the finest outdoor weed for as low as $28.
SPARC is truly an industry leader, setting a high bar for what dispensaries can be.
Opened in 2010
Price: Wide range
Ambiance: Warm, comfortable, hip
Smoke on site: Vaporizing only
Thug factor: Low
Access/security: Tight but welcoming