Ask the Elegant Stoner: How much does cannabis cost?
Welcome back to another edition of our column Ask the Elegant Stoner, in which we answer a question from our readers and provide some insight for you about an aspect of cannabis. Remember, as always, that this is an answer provided by a cannabis expert, not a medical doctor. This column is for entertainment purposes only — definitely talk to a medical professional before doing anything that would affect your health, and obviously you should only buy, use, and consume cannabis where it’s legal to do so.
If you have a question you need answered, feel free to send it along to us, and you might get to read it here in a future column. Today, we’ve got a question from Daniel P., who’s trying to get high on a budget.
I’ve been to a few dispensaries, and every time I go, it seems like the prices are all over the place. Some strains are $20 for 3.5 grams, while others are $60, and some strains are sold by the ounce for a completely different price. What’s the system here? How much, exactly, does cannabis cost?
Good question! While most dispensaries have budtenders behind the bar that will be happy to explain prices to you, they can also be very complex (and some dispensaries have deals with certain growers or distributors that can also make prices confusing). Fortunately, we’re happy to lay out just what all of these different options mean, and give you some resources to help you figure out if you’re getting burned by buying bud, or landing a great discount on some solid herb.
There are basically three factors that determine how much you’ll pay for cannabis: Amount, quality, and what we’ll call supply. Amount is probably the area where you have the most choice, so we’ll start with that one.
Before we talk about current dispensary prices, let’s talk about how weed has been sold in the past (read: illegally).
Prior to our current era of state-by-state legalization, cannabis was sold across informal networks for suppliers and dealers — some cannabis was grown illegally in the US, but much of it was grown outside the US, and then transported in illegally and sold (often alongside other drugs) by dealers to customers. As you might imagine, this made setting standards hard, and holding individual dealers to those standards even harder. One dealer might hook you up with a little more because they liked you, while another might be stingy because their supplier was tougher to work with. The informal nature of the transaction led to a few types of slang measurements that have essentially gone by the wayside with legal pot: A dimebag, for example, was the amount that you’d get for $10 (whatever the dealer determined that was — usually about half a gram).
In general, however, even when weed was illegal, it was sold by two different types of measurements: The gram and/or the ounce. Grams are a measurement of weight in the metric system (1000 grams equals a kilogram), and ounces are an imperial measurement (16 ounces in a pound). Mixing and matching these two systems makes things even more confusing, which is why we’ve put together this easy guide:
1 gram - This is likely the smallest measurement that you can buy cannabis in. Occasionally, you’ll see someone selling a half gram (sometimes people measure distillates and oils the same way), but these days, a gram is usually the minimum. It’s usually no more than a nug or two.
An eighth - Here’s where things get interesting. An eighth is a pretty standard measurement for flower (and in some states, like California, regulations actually say that flower needs to be packaged in no more than eighth measurements). An eighth is 1/8 of an ounce, and it works out to around 3.5 grams. This is usually around 4-5 nugs or so, and in most places, this is what you’ll be buying if you want to try a strain.
A quarter - This is 1/4 ounce, or about 7 grams.
And then the measurements go up from there: a half ounce (about 14 grams) is sometimes called a “half” or a “half o", a full ounce (about 28 grams) is a “full o” or a “zip.” And then eventually cannabis is sold by the pound (16 ounces or about 448 grams), though in the legal market, only distributors and dispensaries themselves will usually (and in some places can only legally) buy or sell that much.
Carts and concentrates have a similar structure, though the measurements are a bit different. Most carts come in measurements of half a gram or a full gram, and there are separate prices for each measurement.
So if you’re going to a dispensary yourself, odds are that you’re looking at buying an eighth of flower, or about 3.5 grams. If you’re looking at carts, determine whether you want a smaller capacity cart (usually about .5 gram) or a larger one (usually 1g at most). In general, that should be your standard for checking prices as you go.
So how much does an eighth cost? The next thing you’ll want to know is the quality of the cannabis you’re buying. Quality means all kinds of things: High quality cannabis is usually grown more carefully (either indoor or outdoor), fed with better nutrients or grown organically, without pesticides or other additives. High quality cannabis will taste better, and have a higher concentration of THC (or CBD, depending on what you’re looking for). The nugs will be brighter and bigger, the smell will be more delicious, and the whole experience will (presumably) be more enjoyable.
Right now (in the US, specifically in California, for the most part), lower quality cannabis can be found for about $25-35 an eighth, while higher quality cannabis can be found for about $55-65 per eighth (or even higher, if the sellers are really proud of the quality). Carts with about half a gram are usually $20-30, while a full gram can be $40-60, depending on the quality.
There are exceptions, but if you’re paying more than that, odds are good you’re getting ripped off. If you’re paying less than that, maybe you’ve found a good deal, but you might also just be buying terrible weed. Some dispensaries will sell what’s called “shake” (which is usually the trimmings left over — stems, sticks, and leaves — when the actual buds are done being removed from the cannabis plant) for much cheaper, and while it might still get you high, it won’t be as tasty or fun.
But you don’t have to take our word for it: Many dispensary listing sites (including Leafly and Weedmaps) will actually show you their prices right on the listing. Instead of running around from place to place, you can keep an eye on what’s selling where and for how much, and grab a deal when you find it, or try a strain you’ve never seen before.
If you’re in someplace besides California (where we’re based), then you might see some different prices completely. And that brings us to our final factor in pricing: supply.
While the biggest factors that you have control over when buying cannabis are the amount (how much you’re buying) and the quality (how well-grown the plant is), there’s another big factor in pricing: How much access a dispensary actually has to the product. Cannabis laws are still being developed and fine-tuned, and there are usually very strict limits, at least at this point in time, on how much cannabis can be grown legally. That means that supply is sometimes hard to come across — as you may remember from high school, low supply but high demand equals high prices.
The supply of cannabis is affected by all sorts of things. Weather might be an issue, and farmer expertise might be another problem (some farmers are still learning how best to grow cannabis and how to keep growing costs down). Legislation may be an issue as well — if only so many growing licenses are available, supply across a state might be low.
Because cannabis isn’t yet legal in the US, it’s also not legal to transport it across state lines, so every state essentially has their own supply (which is why cannabis is usually cheaper in Washington, for example, than in California). That means that right now, one state might have much higher prices than another, because businesses in the state with more supply can’t legally share it with businesses in the other.
Finally, taxes are a big factor as well: states that have legalized have usually done so because they’re looking to make some money on the industry, so in California, for example, taxes can add up to an extra $10-15 per eighth. Yes, that’s a lot of money, and that’s one reason that the illicit market in California is still so big, because illegal dealers just aren’t paying those taxes (and illegal suppliers aren’t either, making illicit product even cheaper).
The good news is that even though prices are relatively high now, presumably they’ll drop eventually, as more growing licenses are given out, growers find more efficiencies in their methods, and dispensary pricing stabilizes. Right now, cannabis users are essentially paying a premium to set up the systems of production and distribution, and once those systems are in place, supply will hopefully increase, and prices will lower. And if they don’t, well, the best way to affect a capitalist system is to vote with your wallet. If you don’t want high prices for cannabis or anything else, don’t buy what you want at high prices. That’s easier said than done for medical patients, we know, but both states and the businesses they’re supporting want to make as much money as possible on cannabis, so it’s up to us consumers to challenge them to make sure it’s accessible and reasonably priced.
Once you’ve found prices that you like, we’ve also got some tips for your first visit to a dispensary (or even if you’ve been to one before, maybe you can make your next visit even better). Pricing can initially be overwhelming and confusing, but if you do your research ahead of time (and if you understand your place in buying cannabis responsibly and helping these emerging systems succeed), you can both find great deals and support dispensaries that are helping to make a difference with legal cannabis around the US. Thanks for asking the question, Daniel, and thanks for reading.