Dispo Inferno

We are nearing the retirement age of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. Forty years after its passage, which increased the penalties for marijuana possession and trafficking, dealers are laughing in the face of the legislation, as they meet customers at their apartments and drop off blunts. Smoking has defiantly prevailed, regardless of the potential consequences, legal and otherwise. The Reagan-era War on Drugs is over. As of 2016, medical marijuana became legal in Pennsylvania, with New Jersey following in its footsteps and legalizing recreational marijuana in 2021. 

Nevertheless, street weed is still going strong. Black-market sales of marijuana have yet to fumble, proving to be an economically sound alternative to the legal dispensaries selling what’s known as “dispo weed.” 

Street weed and dispo weed have very different vibes. Smoking dispensary weed gives you a stronger, more concentrated high, whereas street weed can be flimsy. The high you feel when smoking dispensary weed is cleaner, more potent; you just feel more. Street weed is foggy, like swimming in a murky pool that you’re not really sure when it was cleaned last. But it’s hot outside and you need to cool off so anything will do. Nonetheless, they’ll both get you high. It just varies on how much. Buying weed from a dispensary ensures you’re getting your money’s worth, and you don’t have to worry if someone snuck in a little something extra that you wouldn’t wake up from; you’re in charge.

The two have three major differences: accessibility, quality, and price. The third difference is almost always what turns people away from dispo weed, but the second is what pulls them in the first place.

Typical dispensary products have a higher THC potency when compared to street weed. There are strains with high CBD and THC rates sold exclusively to medical cardholders. The quality is superior, and the product is regulated better. Dispensary weed is also more reliable. Because it is grown legally, it abides by the state law guidelines and quality assurance standards. Customers know all the details of what they’re buying, like the CBD and THC levels which are almost always a mystery in street weed. There is a plethora of strains for both indica and sativa. Options such as ‘Circus Animals,’ ‘Purple Punch,’ ‘Lime Slurps,’ and ‘Kastlekush,’ entice customers and open doors to whole towns where street weed doesn’t even have a house.  

Street versus dispo is not necessarily a massive divide among the people. Street weed gives you a lazy high, a feeling of smog in your mind, and a lethargic mindset the rest of the night. It’s dirty and leaves you muddled in the head sometimes. Dispo weed is vibrant and tickles your mind in the right places. It elevates you and puts you at ease. It actually looks like weed, while street weed can be grubby and sticky. 

Zach, an avid smoker who chose not to share his last name, makes a distinction between the two: “With dispo weed, the quality is much better. When you go to the dispo, you can select what kind of feeling you’re gonna get; every time I smoke it, it’s very specific. Every time I smoke street weed, it’s always a hit or miss. I’ll be so faded one moment, then I’ll take three bowls and feel nothing. It’s like putting your hand in a raffle pot and picking out a specific feeling. People can name things differently but you’re really just gonna get the same thing.”

Quality is arguably the most important part of smoking, and dispensaries offer a much more powerful high. Steve appreciates the dispensary weed taste and how secure it is, “Dispo weed tastes more natural and I know it’s not laced or a bad strain. I can have a more pleasant high and not stress if the weed is going to have adverse effects on me. You’re not really 100 percent sure what’s in it [street weed] so there is a level of uncertainty off the bat.” 

The reassurance given to smokers makes dispo weed all the more attractive. Smoking weed became much easier and safer; it changed the game. Because of the rigorous tests and regulations dispo weed goes through, the quality is guaranteed to be top-notch. The plant is green and has an overwhelmingly natural odor. You don’t feel polluted as you smoke. 

As a loyal dispensary smoker, Steve notes the recognizable differences: “With street weed, a nug could be so crusty and bad,” he says. “Dispensary weed always seems to be fresh and fluffy.” All you need is a magic card and you’re home free. 

Having been normalized with the rise of the recreational ruling, marijuana has become commonplace. Back when the War on Drugs demonized the plant, smoking and possession were very taboo. People were being charged with federal convictions for half a gram of weed. Now, all it takes is a quick drive over the bridge to New Jersey and the proper qualifications to buy legal and regulated weed. Forty years after the passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, it’s interesting to see just how different things have become. 

In Pennsylvania, It’s relatively easy to cheat the system and obtain a medical card. All you need is a doctor’s note claiming you have one of the symptoms listed to make you eligible for the medicinal resource. Most people get diagnosed with anxiety, automatically qualifying them for the card and making them one step closer to the high-end products. In some states, just being over 65 makes you eligible.

Websites like THCdesign also ease access to acquiring dispensary marijuana. A simple ‘yes’ to the screen asking if you’re 21—regardless of the truth—and you’re able to peruse over 15 different varieties of marijuana. Some websites even deliver right to your door for free or at a cheap rate. 

But nothing tops the accessibility and cheap price of street weed, the arguably more popular bud of choice. It populates the streets of North Philly with its ‘loud’ smell and incessant appearance. Going in and out of house parties, laughing with your friends at the function, the smell—and its source—are almost always with you, like a bird on your shoulder you just can’t shake off. And because it’s everywhere, it’s relatively easy to acquire. 

Street weed is easy. It’s a Snapchat message away, takes Venmo, and it doesn’t ID. It’s more personable. It’s your friend, you treasure them, you laugh with them. You can chit-chat as you stand in their doorway counting out 5s or pulling up CashApp. Street weed can slide you an extra nug or two, or give you a special price. Street weed isn’t cold and unfriendly. It knows your name and daps you up. Dispensaries are like a factory, everything in airtight bags, some even without people but rather an iPad for you to put your order in. You go in, press a button, swipe your card, and leave with your product. No chit-chat. No daps. Just business. 

Chris Goldstein, a cannabis consumer advocate, talks about the relationship between dealer and smoker: “The relationship between consumers and suppliers is pretty interesting. Your weed dealer is somebody that you know, somebody that you kind of care about in your neighborhood. But you don’t really care about big corporations, you just care if the price is good, and the quality is there. With your local weed dealer, I mean, the quality is not there, but it’ll be better next week. You’ll still pay the fifty bucks and you’ll feel good about it.” Goldstein stresses the benefits of dispensary weed, “Consistency! Your dealer always has different kinds of weed; the dispensary is always consistent. You’re going to know what you’re getting.”  

Most have heard of the corner store dealer at the end of the block. They’re the small-time distributor fulfilling simple orders for the units down the alleyways or the middleman between the big-time supplier and the frat house across the street. They are local celebrities seen as superheroes to many, coming in at the eleventh hour and saving the day. Without them, the well-oiled machine that is packing bowls and ripping bongs would not proceed. 

Dealers can make a pretty penny selling weed. While it’s important to find a trusted person to buy your product from, it’s a relatively easy business to get into. It’s up to the dealers to make sure their clients are comfortable with them, and that they have a good relationship with each other. 

One local dealer says it’s very important to have a trustworthy relationship with their customers: “It’s what keeps them coming back and giving more customers to me. It’s important to be friendly and answer your phone timely to keep them coming back. Trust is a big factor to make them feel safe because can be dangerous buying off of just anyone.” 

Dealing is a dangerous game. There’s always the chance of legal problems or getting on the bad side of the wrong person. Dealers always need to watch their backs and have people watch out for them, as said by a local dealer. Conflict comes up with clients, missed payments, and a bad shipment causing you to lose money. It’s inconsistent and unreliable. But the money is good. Boy, is it good. 

Say a dealer buys a pound of weed for $1,200. There are 128 8ths in a pound of weed. The average 8th goes from 15 to 25 dollars on the street. Multiply that by 128 and you’re making anywhere between $1,920 and $3,200. Your profit is greatly outweighing the cost. That’s enough to keep people in the business. That much money is enough for people to ignore the potential consequences, like receiving fines or, worse, getting charged. 


Avid smokers are familiar with the ins and outs of smoking. To be a smoker is to be familiar with the tricks and tactics that make up the lifestyle, like crumpling papers to get a tighter grip as you roll, or putting ice in the bong to ease the smoke on your throat. Typically, smokers will smoke whatever they have in front of them, but preferences lie, among an overwhelming majority, with dispensaries. Unfortunately for dispos, it’s their fees that are watering the grounds for their competition’s growth. 

Medical cards cost $50 in state fees and an annual renewal cost of $100. To most people, the end does not justify the means. Fifty bucks is enough for weed for at least two weeks; paying that much just to get your foot in the door is absurd. Companies are getting increasingly greedy with their prices. Laws don’t control the price points for the dispensaries; the corporations that own them do, and they enjoy price gouging very much. Dispensary weed has become industrialized, making it harder to obtain high-quality weed. 

Goldstein recalls a conversation he had with a friend on the issues with high cost at dispensaries, complaining that “people don’t even know what good weed is anymore cause they can’t afford to buy the good weed. They don’t even see it. They just can afford the cheap shake in a jar.” Unfortunately, that is more common than not these days. 

Dispensary weed is better than that of the street and is worth seeking out a card or befriending someone with one. There’s no debate on that front. Lola, another avid smoker, concurs, maintaining that street weed is seldom as good, and dispensary carts will take the cake time and time again. The only thing keeping them in the street business is the cheap prices. 

“I primarily smoke street stuff,” says Lola. “I get actual bud off the street. It’s cheaper than at the dispo. Dispo weed is better than most street weed, but it’s more expensive. I don’t have a med card, but I’m trying to get one. It’s expensive, but it’ll definitely be helpful in the future. I feel like in the long run it’ll be good for me.” 

Zach joins Lola in this proclamation, and expresses his disdain for dispensary prices, regardless of how good the product is: “When I got to Temple, I started buying from dispensaries. It was super-duper expensive. I’m talking a 75-dollar 8th; it was god-awful. You have to find deals. They have different types—‘shake’ and ‘trim’—to try to divide it from the premium stuff. It’s all the same stuff, just different words.” Don’t fall for the fancy stuff; it’s all weed. 

In the skating scene, weed is a chief facet of the culture. The community at the Cecil Skatepark is notoriously tight-knit and regarded as a very elite group of skaters; even fellow skaters are intimidated by their level of skill. When the sun comes out behind the clouds and thermostats creep up, life returns to the concrete park, and with it, nature. Smoking not only unites people in the smoking realm but also creates partnerships and spreads love and passion. 

Zach, who is also a member of the skatepark, speaks on what it’s like: “A way to connect with people in skating was weed. I found my friends through smoking, hitting the bong, and rolling a joint. It was always there to connect. I think it just goes hand in hand: kush and skateboarding. Sharing a passion makes a friend.”

Street weed fuels the community; many skaters are dealers themselves. Living a frugal lifestyle with their financial priorities going to skating equipment, shoes, and the best cheesesteaks, dispensary weed is not in their budget. 

Street weed will always be a thing. It will always have customers and there will always be business. No one person gets all their product just from the dispensary, no matter how affluent they are. Sure, legal products are better on paper. But for some, nothing will beat the rush of texting your designated gardener every two weeks and going home with a Ziploc bag in your pocket, ready to turn to dust; your wallet feels good, and you feel even better.



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