The 420 Issue: Our list of the best thing to buy at six local dispensaries

You could go broke trying every product from every dispensary

Sunburn Cannabis sells premium bud at their new East Orlando dispensary
Sunburn Cannabis sells premium bud at their new East Orlando dispensary photo by Seth Kubersky

Local legal cannabis consumers (like myself) have watched with wide, reddened eyes as our state's medical marijuana program has exploded over the past few years. From forbidding patients to purchase smokable plant matter and only offering underpowered oils, Florida has rapidly transformed into an increasingly mature market, whose best products can now stand proudly alongside those grown in states renowned for their ganja.

As wonderful as this widening world of weed is, the flood of new brands, dispensaries and delivery methods has also been accompanied by some confusion and frustration. I'm an educated shopper who has patronized the nation's largest recreational pot shops in California and Nevada, but I still sometimes get overwhelmed by all the options now available in Orlando. For a newly enrolled patient who has just jumped through the hoops of getting a doctor's recommendation and government approval, figuring where to go and what to buy can feel like running a gauntlet.

Even though most dispensaries offer deep discounts to first-time customers, figuring out each vendor's strengths and weaknesses can be an expensive proposition — you'll quickly exhaust either your allowed dosage or your wallet if you try sampling every store in the city. That's where this first-ever list of "Orlando's Best Buds" comes in, an entirely subjective and unscientific assemblage of my personal picks for the best local places to buy pot — or one of its potent derivatives.

Note that some of the featured brands have previously provided me complimentary samples for review purposes, but I've also shopped at all these places on my own dime.

Whole Flower

Sunburn Cannabis: sunburncannabis.com

It all starts with the plant, and few have deeper roots in Florida hemp than Brady Cobb, whose father was a notorious Miami smuggler. Sunburn Cannabis — which Cobb founded after selling his One Plant brand to Cresco's Sunnyside — cheekily say they've been "the original delivery service since 1971," and the premium bud coming out of their first local dispensary on University Boulevard certainly delivers in both THC and terpenes (which are helpfully detailed on their website). Prices are higher than their competitors, but take one toke from a frosty trichome-glazed nugget of their sweet 7 Layer Chem or gassy Petrol Station, and you'll instantly understand that extra octane is sometimes worth springing for.

Ground Flower

Last Resort at GrowHealthy: growhealthy.com

Of course, sometimes you want quantity over quality, and many dispensaries offer deep discounts on ground cannabis, also known as "leftover" or shake. Unfortunately, most of the time this is literally the dry crumbs left in the bottom of the bin after all the good stuff has been packaged, and often contains an indistinct blend of different strains. GrowHealthy bucks the trend with its strain-specific Last Resort, which looks like extra-small buds that were run through a medium-coarse grinder, and doesn't taste like old sawdust. It's perfect for vaporizing or cooking, smokes just fine in a cone if you're feeling lazy, and is even cheaper than that black market brick weed you used to buy when you were broke back in the aughts. The only catch is that higher-THC varieties sell out swiftly, and GrowHealthy's only Orlando location is near the traffic Hellmouth at Sand Lake and I-4.

Prerolls

B. Noble at Curaleaf: curaleaf.com, b-noble.com

Prerolled joints typically have the same problems as ground flower, but without the attractive price-per-gram value proposition. I'd ordinarily advise avoiding them altogether, but in the case of Curaleaf's collaboration with B Noble, I'll make an exception. You'd expect anything endorsed by legendary artist and cannabis advocate Fab 5 Freddy would have to hit hard, and his Lady Madonna hybrid is certainly the heaviest preroll I've tasted in Florida's medical program. More importantly, a portion of the proceeds go to local nonprofits helping to reintegrate those incarcerated in the war on drugs. I don't feel so bad paying the price of an eighth for only two grams, knowing that much weed cost the real Bernard Noble (whose ordeal inspired the brand) 13 years of his life.

Live Concentrates

Sunnyside: sunnyside.shop

Moving beyond the basic buds, Florida's concentrates scene has certainly blossomed over the past year. Once upon a time, Orlando was awash with vape pens containing botanically flavored ethanol distillates and bereft of any butane-derived products; today, we have access to a wide variety of full-spectrum extracts that retain the plant's original character. I personally prefer solventless 510 cartridges for medicating discreetly on the move, and BHO semi-solids when doing serious dabbing at home. Sunnyside scores on both accounts with their One Plant liquid Live Rosin carts and Cresco Live Resin Sugar. Neither is necessarily the cheapest or most potent in their class, but they both deliver well-balanced flavor along with all the herb's entourage effect-inducing terps.

Rick Simpson Oil

MÜV: muvfl.com

Another type of extract that often flies under the radar is Rick Simpson Oil (aka RSO), which was originally touted as a skin cancer cure by its eponymous inventor. It isn't meant for inhaling, but works great topically (mixed into hand cream or applied under a bandage), sublingually (hold it your tongue for as long as you can stand the grassy taste), or when eaten with any fatty food. Many dispensaries now carry RSO, but sometimes it looks like amber honey or maple syrup; the RSO from MÜV is blacker than midnight, thicker than cold molasses, and packed with every last drop of medicinal goodness the cannabis plant has to offer. If you're new to RSO, remember that it packs a deceptively powerful punch; start with a rice grain-sized drop, and build up from there.

Edibles

Smokiez at Fluent: getfluent.com

For new patients who grew up hearing about the evils of smoking pot, consuming cannabis chocolates and gummies may seem like an accessible way of imbibing without inhaling. There are some caveats: It can take an hour or more for edibles' effects to kick in; those effects may last uncomfortably long; and, unless homemade, edibles are the most expensive intake method per milligram of THC. I've yet to find a medicated chocolate in Florida that tasted better than dollar store candy, and most gummies I've bought here either tasted like bong water, or melted into a blob before I drove them home. Fluent wisely partnered with Smokiez, an award-winning national brand, whose fruit gels are very tasty (the watermelon chews taste just like Sour Patch Kids) and deliciously effective. Just don't enjoy the flavor too much if you're watching your sugar — Smokiez are vegan, but definitely not sugar-free.

Where's Trulieve?

It's time to address the giant green elephant that isn't in the room. Trulieve is by far Florida's largest medical marijuana operator, and if our state legalizes recreational adult use anytime soon, it will be largely thanks to their multimillion-dollar amendment drive. There's lots to like about Trulieve. They stock every category of product, host free educational seminars for patients, and they offer a generous return policy. But Trulieve is also like the McDonald's of marijuana: There's one on every corner, and while their products generally get the job done, there's nothing about the experience that I'd consider gourmet. Nothing I've purchased there since the legendary first drop of Black Tuna back in 2021 has been worthy of a special recommendation, and now that they've quit taking CanPay debit payments in favor of their own ATMs, I've ceased shopping there entirely — no matter how insistent their daily texts are.

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