Marijuana goes mainstream

I’ve smoked marijuana on and off for most of my adult life, usually in the evening to help let go of the anxieties associated with being a progressive wage slave in an increasingly conservative capitalist country.

Buying my pot, which is California’s biggest cash crop, has always been a criminal transaction: in hushed tones or coded language, I arrange to meet a dealer I’ve been set up with through friends. And when I meet him (they’ve always been men), I give him cash in exchange for an eighth- or quarter-ounce of whatever kind of pot he’s selling.

I don’t know what variety I’m buying, who grew it, or how it was grown; whether violence or environmental degradation have occurred along the supply chain; or even whether it is an indica or sativa, the two most basic cannabis families that have differing effects on users.

I’ve been completely in the dark, both in terms of what I was buying and who was benefiting from the transaction, but that changed recently. I obtained a doctor’s recommendation to legally smoke weed — honestly citing anxiety as my affliction — and set out to explore the area’s best cannabis clubs.

It was a little strange and disorienting at first, this new world of expert purveyors of the finest Northern California marijuana and the various concentrates, edibles, drinkables, and other products it goes into. But what eventually struck me is just now normal and mainstream this industry has become, particularly in San Francisco, which has long led the movement to legalize marijuana.

Unlike in cities such as Los Angeles, where the rapid proliferation of unregulated pot clubs has made headlines and raised community concerns, San Francisco years ago made its clubs jump through various bureaucratic hoops to become fully licensed, permitted, and regulated, free to join the mainstream business community, pay their taxes, and compete with one another on the basis of quality, price, customer service, ambiance, and support for the community.

As Californians prepare to decide whether to decriminalize marijuana for even recreational use — on Jan. 28, advocates plan to turn in enough valid signatures to place that initiative on the fall ballot — it’s a good time to explore just what the world of legal weed looks like.

Pretty much everyone involved agrees that San Francisco’s system for distributing marijuana to those with a doctor’s recommendation for it is working well: the patients, growers, dispensary operators, doctors, politicians, police, and regulators with the planning and public health departments.

“It works and it should continue to be replicated,” Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who created the legislation four years ago that led to the current system, told us. “It’s now mainstream.”

Public health officials agree. “In general, we’re very happy about our relationship with the industry and their commitment to the regulations,” said Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, San Francisco’s environmental health director. “We did this well and we did it cooperatively with the clubs.”

Bhatia said there are now 22 fully-permitted clubs (and two more under review) in San Francisco, less than half the number operating when the regulations were created. He also said the city no longer receives many complaints from neighbors of clubs.

Misha Breyburg, managing partner of the nonprofit Medithrive, which opened just a few months ago on Mission Street, supports the process too. “The regulations generally are not easy, but I think that’s okay,” he said. “The process was long and cumbersome and stressful, but very fair.”

Martin Olive, director of the Vapor Room, one of the city’s largest and best dispensaries, agrees that the permitting process professionalized the industry: “I’m proud to be here because the city government has been amazing.”

Richard Lee — founder of Oaksterdam University in Oakland, which teaches marijuana cultivation and is the main financial backer behind the initiative to legalize and tax pot — said San Francisco and Oakland have demonstrated that cannabis clubs can function like any other legitimate industry and become a real asset to their neighborhoods and the local economy.

“Once they started legalizing the clubs, they had no more problems,” Lee told us. “It really is boring and really not a big deal. It’s only the prohibition that makes it exciting and a little scary.”

In fact, Lee said that normalizing and legalizing the marijuana industry is the best way to deal with the problems associated with the illegal drug trade, such as violence, creation of a criminal class, respect for law enforcement, wasted public resources, lost tax opportunities, unsafe growing operations, and environmental damage.

“We need to end cannabis prohibition to end the violence,” Lee said.

Bringing marijuana above ground also has created an artisanship that’s similar to the wine industry, elevating cultivation practices to an art form, improving the science behind it, and making users more sophisticated about subtle differences in taste and effect among the dozens of varieties now on the market.

But the growers themselves still exist in a murky gray area. Although they can get some legal cover as registered caregivers to a cooperative’s members, they’re still exposed to thefts, shakedowns, logistical difficulties, and raids by federal agents or even local police, such as the series of raids in the Sunset District last fall that targeted even legitimate growers for the clubs.

“Right now, cultivators have no air cover at all and they’re getting mixed messages,” Mirkarimi said, calling for the city to better protect growers and even consider getting into the business of growing pot for the clubs and patients. “General Hospital should dispense medical cannabis.”

That issue and others related to the city’s relationship with the industry are currently the subject of a working group convened by Sup. David Campos, a byproduct of which is the proposal to create a Medical Cannabis Task Force to advise the Board of Supervisors, an item the board was scheduled to vote on Jan. 26.

Mirkarimi said he’s also concerned about current rules that ban smoking in clubs that are within 1,000 feet of schools or drug treatment facilities, which has served to prohibit smoking in all but a few San Francisco clubs. Oakland bans smoking in all its clubs. “That’s where the laws could be modified, because you don’t want to take away that social vibe,” Mirkarimi said. “San Francisco needs to be a leader in activating the next step.”

Olive, whose club allows smoking and has a great social scene, agrees that something is lost when the clubs are forced to be simply transactional.

“This is a social healing medicine, and we’re here to promote an inviting atmosphere where people can share their stories,” Olive said. “The whole point is not to just come in and get your medicine, but to be a part of a community.”

That community can range from young stoners to dying old patients, who can both benefit from their communion. “It’s the hippies and the yuppies. Everyone comes here,” Breyburg said. Or as Olive told me, “There is something intrinsically rewarding to sharing a joint with someone, as silly as that sounds.”

The voter-approved Proposition 215 and state law are deliberately vague on what ailments qualify for a doctor’s recommendation, spawning a sub-industry of physicians who specialize in pot, like the ones at the clinic I visited, Dr. Hanya Barth’s Compassionate Health Options in SoMa.

The busy clinic charges around $130 for an initial visit and patients walk away with a legal recommendation, which is all state law requires to legally use marijuana (the clinic recommended also buying a $100 state ID card or a $40 card from the Patient ID Center in Oakland, but I didn’t need them to enter any of the clubs I visited).

The long forms patients fill out even suggest anxiety as an affliction that pot can help, but the clinic also asks patients to sign a waiver to obtain detailed medical records supporting the recommendation. When Barth learned that I have a shoulder separation for which I underwent an MRI a few years ago, she requested those records and added “shoulder pain” to my “anxiety” affliction.

“My goal is not just to give people a recommendation. I look at how I can help or support the person beyond just giving them a recommendation,” Barth told me, illustrating her point by showing me two packs of cigarettes from patients whom she said she convinced to quit smoking.

Her vibe combines the healer and the old hippie, someone who sees a plethora of uses for marijuana and generally thinks society would be better off if everyone would just have a puff and chill out. The clubs also don’t draw distinctions based on their customers’ reasons for smoking.

“There is a distinct difference between medical use and recreational use,” Olive said, telling stories about amazing turnarounds he’s seen in patients with AIDS, cancer, and other debilitating diseases, contrasting that with people who just like to get high before watching a funny movie, which he said is also fine.

But Olive said there’s an important and often under-appreciated third category of marijuana use: therapeutic. “They use cannabis to cope, to unwind, to relax, to sleep better, or to think through problems in a different way,” Olive said.

This third category of user, which I officially fall into, seems to be the majority people I encountered in the local clubs. And while it may be easy for cannabis’ critics to dismiss such patients as taking advantage of laws and a system meant to help sick people, Olive says they play an important role.

“They make it easier for the cannabis clubs to give it away to the people who really need it,” Olive said, referring the practice by most clubs of giving away free weed to low-income or very sick patients, which is supported by the profits made on sales.

The Vapor Room is widely regarded as having one of the best compassionate giving programs, and Olive estimated that the operation gives away about a pound per week through local hospice programs and by giving away edibles and bags of cannabis vapor at the club.

Some of the profits are also used to offer free massage, yoga, chiropractic, and other classes to their members, a system being taken to new heights by Harborside Health Center in Oakland, which has fairly high prices but uses that revenue to offer an extensive list of free services and laboratory analysis of the pot it sells, identifying both contaminants (such as molds or pesticides) and the level of THC, the compound that gets you high.

Olive said there’s also a positive psychological impact of legitimizing the use of marijuana: “It no longer feels like you’re doing a bad thing that you have to be sneaky about.”

As I created my list of the clubs I planned to review, I found abundant online resources such as www.sanfranciscocannabisclubs.com and www.weedtracker.com. 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:

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DIVINITY TREE

While the reviews on Yelp rave about Divinity Tree (958 Geary St.), giving it five stars, I found it a little intimidating and transactional (although it was the first club I visited, so that might be a factor). But if you’re looking to just do your business in a no-frills environment and get out, this could be your place.

The staff and most of the clientele were young men, some a bit thuggish. One worker wore a “Stop Snitching” T-shirt and another had “Free the SF8.” But they behaved professionally and were knowledgeable and easy to talk to. When I asked for a strain that would ease my anxiety but still allow me enough focus to write, my guy (patients wait along a bench until called to the counter) seemed to thoughtfully ponder the question for a moment, then said I wanted a “sativa-dominant hybrid” and recommended Neville’s Haze.

I bought 1/16 for $25 and when I asked for a receipt, it seemed as though they don’t get that question very often. But without missing a beat he said, “Sure, I’ll give you a receipt,” and gave me a hand-written one for “Meds.”

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: three years

Price: Fairly low

Selection: Moderate

Ambiance: A transactional hole in the wall

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Easy. Membership available but not required

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GRASS ROOTS

Located at 1077 Post St. right next to Fire Station #3, Grass Roots has the feel of a busy saloon. Indeed, as a worker named Justin told me, many of the employees are former bartenders who know and value customer service. With music, great lighting, and nice décor, this place feels comfortable and totally legit. Whereas most clubs are cash-only, Grass Roots allows credit card transactions and has an ATM on site.

The steady stream of customers are asked to wait along the back wall, perusing the menus (one for buds and another with pictures for a huge selection of edibles) until called to the bar. When asked, my guy gave me a knowledgeable breakdown of the difference between sativa and indica, but then Justin came over to relieve him for a lunch break with the BBQ they had ordered in and ate in the back.

Justin answered my writing-while-high inquiry by recommending Blue Dream ($17 for a 1.2-gram), and when I asked about edibles, he said he really likes the indica instant hot chocolate ($6), advising me to use milk rather than water because it bonds better with the cannabinoids to improve the high. Then he gave me a free pot brownie because I was a new customer. I was tempted to tip him, but we just said a warm goodbye instead.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: five years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: A warm and welcoming weed bar

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

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HOPENET

Hopenet (223 Ninth St.) is one of the few places in the city where you can smoke on site, in a comfortable, homey style, as if you’re visiting a friend’s apartment. In addition to the loveseat, two chairs, and large bong, there is a small patio area for smoking cigarettes or playing a guitar, as someone was doing during my visit.

Although the small staff is definitely knowledgeable, they all seemed stoned. And when I asked about the right weed for my writing problem, a gruff older woman impatiently dismissed any indica vs. sativa distinctions and walked away. But I learned a lot about how they made the wide variety of concentrates from the young, slow-talking guy who remained.

He weighed out a heavy gram of White Grapes for $15, the same price for Blue Dream, and $2 cheaper than I had just paid at Grass Roots. That was in the back room, the big middle area was for hanging out, and the front area was check-in and retail, with a case for pipes and wide variety of stoner T-shirts on the walls.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: seven years

Price: Low

Selection: Moderate

Ambiance: Like a converted home with retail up front

Smoke On Site: Yes!

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

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VAPOR ROOM

Vapor Room (607A Haight, www.vaporroom.com) is San Francisco’s best pot club, at least in terms of feeling like an actual club and having strong connections to its community of patients. It’s a large room where customers can smoke on site, giving this collective a warm, communal vibe that facilitates social interaction and fosters a real sense of inclusiveness.

Each of the four large tables has a high-end Volcano vaporizer on it, there’s a big-screen TV, elegant décor, and large aquarium. There’s a nice mix of young heads and older patients, the latter seeming to know each other well. But, lest members feel a little too at home, a sign on the wall indicates a two-hour time limit for hanging out.

Its early days in the spot next door were a bit grungier, but the new place is bright and elegant. It has a low-key façade and professional feel, and it strongly caters to patients’ needs. Low-income patients are regularly offered free medicine, such as bags full of vapor prepared by staff. Mirkarimi said the Vapor Room is very involved in the Lower Haight community and called it a “model club.”

But they’re still all about the weed, and they have a huge selection that you can easily examine (with a handy magnifying glass) and smell, knowledgeable staff, lots of edibles and concentrates, a tea bar (medicated and regular), and fairly low standardized pot prices: $15 per gram, $25 per 1/16th, $50 per eighth. And once you got your stuff, grab a bong off the shelf and settle into a table — but don’t forget to give them your card at the front desk to check out a bowl for your bong. As the guy told me, “It’s like a library.”

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: six years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Warm, communal hangout

Smoke On Site: Yes!

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy, but membership required

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MEDITHRIVE

The newest cannabis club in town, MediThrive (1933 Mission, www.medithrive.com) has a bright, fresh, artsy feel to it, with elegantly frosted windows and a welcoming reception area as you enter. This nonprofit coop takes your photo and requires free membership, and already had almost 3,000 members when I signed up a couple weeks ago. Tiana, the good-looking young receptionist, said the club recently won a reader’s choice Cannabis Cup award and noted that all the art on the walls was a rotating collection by local patients: “We’re all about supporting local art.”

The decorators seemed to have fun with the cannabis concept, with a frosted window with a pot leaf photo separating the reception area from the main room, while the walls alternated wood planks with bright green fake moss that looked like the whole place was bursting with marijuana. There’s a flat-screen TV on the wall, at low volume.

The large staff is very friendly and seemed fairly knowledgeable, and the huge selection of pot strains were arranged on a spectrum with the heaviest indica varieties on the left to the pure sativas on the right. Lots of edibles and drinkables, too. The cheapest bud was a cool steel tin with a gram of Mission Kush for $14 (new members get a free sample), while the high rollers could buy some super-concentrated OG Kush Gold Dust ($50) or Ear Wax ($45) to sprinkle over their bowls.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: three months

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Professional, like an artsy doctor’s office

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Very low

Access/Security: Easy, but membership required

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KETAMA COLLECTIVE

At 14 Valencia St., Ketama is a testament to how silly it is that clubs within 1,000 feet of schools aren’t permitted to allow smoking on site. This former café has a large, comfortable seating area and full kitchen, both of which have had little use since a school opened way down the street last year, causing city officials to ban smoking at Ketama.

Pity, because it seems like a great place to just hang out. Yet now it just seemed underutilized and slow. The staff is small (one door guy and a woman hired last summer doing sales), and we were the only customers during the 20 minutes I was there (except for the weird old guy drinking beer from a can in a bag who kept popping in and out).

But it still had jars of good green bud, several flavors of weed-laced drinks and edibles, and a pretty good selection of hash and kief at different prices, and the woman spoke knowledgeably about the different processes by which they were created. To counteract the slow business, Ketama has a neon sign out front that explicitly announces its business — another indication the industry has gone legit.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: five years

Price: Low

Selection: Limited

Ambiance: Dirty hippie hangout, but with nobody there

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy, but free membership required

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MR. NICE GUY

Belying its name, Mr. Nice Guy (174 Valencia St.) thrilled and scared me, but not necessarily in a bad way. Located across the street from Zeitgeist, the thug factor here was high and so was the security, allowing no human interaction that wasn’t mediated by thick Plexiglass, presumably bulletproof.

After initially being told by a disembodied voice to come back in five minutes, I submitted my doctor’s recommendation and ID into the slot of a teller’s window, darkened to hide whoever I was dealing with. Quickly approved, I was buzzed into a small, strange room with three doors.

I paused, confused, until the disembodied voice again told me, “Keep going,” and I was buzzed through another door into a hallway that led to a large room, its walls completely covered in brilliant murals, expertly painted in hip-hop style. Along the front walls, a lighted menu broke down the prices of about 20 cannabis varieties.

Then finally, I saw people: two impossibly hot, young female employees, lounging nonchalantly in their weed box, like strippers waiting to start their routines. The only other customer, a young B-boy, chatted them up though the glass, seemingly more interested in these striking women than their products.

I finally decided to go with the special, an ounce of Fever, normally $17, for just $10. I opened a small door in the glass, set down my cash, and watched the tall, milk chocolate-skinned beauty trade my money for Fever, leaving me feeling flushed. It was the best dime-bag I ever bought.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: ???

Price: Moderate, with cheap specials

Selection: High

Ambiance: Hip hop strip club

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: High

Access/Security: High security but low scrutiny

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BERNAL HEIGHTS COLLECTIVE

Bernal Collective (33 29th St. at Mission) seemed both more casual and more strict than any of the other clubs in town — and it also turned out to be one of my favorites.

After refusing to buy pot for a guy out front who had just been turned away, I entered the club and faced more scrutiny than I had at any other club. It was the only club to ask for my doctor’s license number and my referral number, and when I tried to check an incoming text message, I was told cell phone use wasn’t allowed for “security reasons.” On the wall, they had a blown-up copy of their 2007 legal notice announcing their opening.

But beyond this by-the-book façade, this club proved warm and welcoming, like a comfortable clubhouse. People can smoke on site, and there’s even a daily happy hour from 4:20–5:20 p.m., with $1 off joints and edibles, both in abundant supply. Normal-sized prerolled joints are $5, but they also offer a massive bomber joint with a full eighth of weed for $50.

The staff of a half-dozen young men were knowledgeable about the 20 varieties they had on hand and offered excellent customer service, even washing down the bong with an alcohol-wipe before letting a customer take a rip from the XXX, a strong, sticky bud that was just $15 for a gram.

Buds weighed at purchase

Open for: five years

Price: Fairly low

Selection: High

Ambiance: A clubhouse for young stoners

Smoke On Site: Yes

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Fairly tight

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LOVE SHACK

This longtime club (502 14th St.) has had its ups and downs, the downs coming mostly because of its location on a fairly residential block. After taking complaints from neighbors, the city required Love Shack to cap its membership, although that seems to be changing because the club let me in, albeit with a warning that next time I would need to have a state ID card. It was the only club I visited to have such a requirement.

Once inside this tiny club, I could see why people might have been backed up onto the street at times. But the staff was friendly and seemed to have a great rapport with the regulars, who seemed be everyone except me. The knowledgeable manager walked me through their 20-plus varieties, most costing the standard street price of $50 per eighth, or more for stronger stuff like Romulan.

On the more affordable end of the spectrum was the $10 special for Jack Herrer Hash, named for the longtime legalization advocate who wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes, a classic book on the history of the movement.

Buds weighed at purchase

Open for: eight years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Small, like a converted apartment

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Tight

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COFFEE SHOP BLUE SKY

Blue Sky (377 17th St., Oakland)is based on the Amsterdam model of combining marijuana dispensaries with coffee shops, although it suffers a bit from Oakland’s ban on smoking. Still, it’s a cool concept and one that Richard Lee sees as the future of marijuana-related businesses because of the synergy between smoking and grabbing a bite or some coffee.

Most of Blue Sky is a small coffee shop and smoothie bar, but there’s a little room in back for buying weed. “We’ve got the best prices around,” said the guy who checked my ID, and indeed, $44 eighths and $10 “puppy bags” were pretty cheap. Customers can also sign up to do volunteer political advocacy work for free weed.

The only downside is the limited selection, only four varieties when I was there, although the woman at the counter said the varieties rotate over the course of the day based on the club’s purchases from growers.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: 14 years

Price: Low

Selection: Very limited

Ambiance: A fragrant little room behind a coffee shop

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

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HARBORSIDE HEALTH CENTER

I have seen the future of legitimized medical marijuana businesses, and it’s Harborside (1840 Embarcadero, Oakland). With its motto of “Out of the shadows, into the light,” this place is like the Costco of pot — a huge, airy facility with a dizzying number of selections and even a “rewards card” program.

All new members are given a tour, starting with sign-up sheets for daily free services that include yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, reiki, consultations with herbalists, and classes on growing. Then we moved to a section with the clones of dozens of pot plant varieties available for purchase (limit of 72 plants per visit), along with a potted marijuana plant the size of a tree.

Harborside is also blazing the trail on laboratory services, testing all of its pot for contaminants and THC content, labeling it on the packaging just like the alcohol industry does. Some of the smaller clubs don’t like how over-the-top Harborside is, and they complain that its prices are high. But those profits seem to be poured back into the services at this unique facility.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: three years

Price: High

Selection: Huge

Ambiance: A big, open shopping emporium

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Tight

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SANCTUARY

The people who run Sanctuary (669 O’Farrell St.), the first club to fully comply with the new city regulations and get its permanent license, have been active in the political push for normalizing medical marijuana, as a wall full of awards and letters from politicians attests. Owner Michael Welch was commended for his work by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, where Sanctuary employee Tim Durning has been an active longtime member and former elected officer.

Sanctuary has a generous compassionate giving program and caters to lots of poor residents of the Tenderloin neighborhood. While the club is prohibited from allowing smoking, they fudge the restriction with a Volcano vaporizer. “A lot of patients are on fixed income and live in the SROs, where they can’t smoke, so we let them vaporize here whether they buy from us or not,” Durning told us.

Those who do buy from them find a huge selection — including 20 different kinds of hash and 17 varieties of buds — at a wide price range. Staffers know their products well and take their business seriously, giving a regular spiel to new members about responsible use, which includes maintaining neighborhood relations by not smoking near the business.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: five years

Price: Low to moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Campaign headquarters for the marijuana movement

Smoke On Site: No, but vaporizing OK

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

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GREEN DOOR

If low prices or a huge selection of edibles are what you seek, Green Door (843 Howard St., www.greendoorsf.com) could be the club for you.

Eighths of good green buds start at a ridiculously low $25 and go up to just $50 (the cheapest price for eighths at many clubs and also the standard black market price). If that’s not low enough, super-broke users can buy a quarter-ounce bag of high-grade shake for $40.

If you didn’t already have the munchies going in, you’ll get them perusing the huge menu of edibles: from weed-laced knockoffs of Snickers bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for just $5 to cupcakes, ice cream, or Chex party mix. They have lots of hash and other concentrates as well.

Somehow, the club also manages to have a strong compassionate giving program and contibutes to local civic organizations that include the Black Rock Arts Foundation, Maitri AIDS Hospice, and Friends of the Urban Forest.

The club itself is a little sterile and transactional, with an institutional feel and employees stuck behind teller windows. But even though that and the steady flow of tough-looking young male customers raise its thug factor a bit, the employees all seemed friendly and helpful, giving free edibles to first-time customers.

Prepackage buds

Open for: 8 years (4 here, 4 in Oakland)

Price: Cheap

Selection: High for edibles, moderate for weed

Ambiance: Like a community bank of cheap weed

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Easy access, high security

————–

RE-LEAF HERBAL CENTER

While I had heard good things about Re-Leaf (1284 Mission St.), my first impression was that it’s a little sketchy. As the door guy was checking my recommendation card and ID, I asked whether they allow smoking on site. He looked as if this was a difficult question, paused, and finally told me to ask the people behind the counter.

The small club was blaring gangsta rap when I entered, after a while lowering the volume to compete less with the blaring television set to an ultimate fighting match. It had two small fridges filled with tasty-looking edibles and lots of vaporizers and other merchandise for sale, but only eight varieties of marijuana.

But the service was good, and after knocking $5 off my gram of Jim Jones (a variety I only found here) because I was a first-time customer, he told me it was OK to smoke on site. I sat down on the couch, but there were no bongs, vaporizers, pipes, or even ashtrays to use.

Buds weighed on purchase

Open for: two years (three years at previous SF location)

Price: Fairly low

Selection: Limited

Ambiance: A loud head shop that also has some weed

Smoke On Site: Yes and no

Thug factor: Moderate to high

Access/Security: Easy