NEW YORK (MainStreet) - I spent a recent week touring marijuana dispensaries in Eugene and Springfield, Ore. There are approximately 25 legal dispensaries within a 20 mile radius, and I'm surrounded by both homegrowers and the DEA (Oregon is a border state, after all).

Each of these small businesses is in its first year, one of the hardest for any entrepreneur. And the problems only compound when you're in the drug business, competing with Big Pharma, Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol on top of drug cartels, government, and law enforcement.

Spending time in the warm lighting of the boutique dispensaries owned by Debra Grosella of Eat Half First Medicinal Cannabis Bakery (and Oregon Microgrowery Guild) and William Thysell of Next Level Wellness, you'd never know there was a war on drugs. Being a long-time connoisseur of cannabis camping in the Anytown, U.S.A. that inspired The Simpsons, I couldn't feel happier...or more American.

Between the green rush of ganjapreneurs and the underground drug trade is a precious piece of Americana - local farmers and homegrown scientists becoming entrepreneurs and giving back to the local community. Cannabis is about compassion, so without further ado - if you have $500 burning a hole in your pocket, here's how to get the most bang for your buck by supporting your local economy with #ReeferMadness...

1. Buy Some Buds

When I was your age, drug mules had to cross the border in tunnels, uphill both ways so I could spend $80 for a baggie full of dirt weed that fell off a 100 kilo bundle making its way up to your part of the country. These days you practically need a botany degree to keep track of every cannabis strain out on the market, which is currently around 1,000.

Generation X and older knows of marijuana, cannabis, bud, reefer, herb, ganja and all these terms I use as what's sold in stores as either nug or flower. It's buds from the female cannabis plant - harvested, dried, and smoked in the method of your choosing.

There are many different strains of buds, and each has its own distinct look, smell, flavor, chemical composition, and effects. The general idea is Indicas are grown indoors, giving you couch-lock, while Sativas grow in the sunlight, motivating you to go outside and play. A true cannabis connoisseur, however, will tell you that's the equivalent of saying the only wines available are red and white.

Like any other commodity, the more bud you buy, the cheaper it is. Most places will allow you to mix-and-match, except Washington, where the government is taxing their constituents like the Sherriff of Rottingham.

For $500, you're looking at anywhere between two ounces and one pound. The reason for the price discrepancy is the government. "Vote next time," Doug Stanhope said. If you're over 18, I assume you already have something to smoke bud in.


2. Dab It Up

Thysell is an extraction expert with cannabis concentrates. This budding ganjapreneur uses a closed-loop BHO rig to create and dole out the best boutique medical concentrates on the West Coast.

While Thysell blazed an Oregon Trail of concentrates, Next Level Manager Jessica Tutt started in hydroponics. In that business, she connected with the farming community in the lush, fertile landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, gaining a wealth of indoor and outdoor growing knowledge. They use their mutual connections to ensure they always carry the largest rotating and seasonal selection of concentrates I've seen outside California.

Tutt explained that when extracted correctly, it doesn't make a difference what solvent you use, but a closed-loop system will provide the best product, regardless if it's BHO or CO2.

The percentages listed on the packaging really mean nothing. It's the color you're looking for - generally the lighter, the better. Instead, ask your caregiver the conditions each strain relieves and the effects.

Spending $500 on concentrate will leave you with no way to consume it, so we'll have to dole out a little dough for accessories. Here are the supplies necessary for the art of dabbing, no matter where you are in the country. Either:

  • Titanium, Quartz, or Ceramic "Nail" (I recommend Ceramic for flavor), $25,and
  • Bong (head shops still prefer you call them water pipes), $100,* and
  • Propane Torch, $50 and
  • Dab Scoop and Poker, $10 (unless artistic)
*Note: Bongs are like guitars - they get expensive fast! Don't spend more than $100 on a starter

or

  • eCigarette/Vaporizer/Vape Pen Battery, $15-20, and
  • eCigarette/Vaporizer/Vape Pen Charger, $5, and
  • eCigarette/vaporizer/Vape Pen Dab Head/Glass Dome, $20 (unless artistic), and
  • Dab Scoop and Poker, $10

or

  • Cloud Pen Kit (I both love and hate this pen for a variety of reasons listed below), $80

This leaves you with, let's call it $350, to spend on concentrates. Depending on where you are in the country, you can purchase anywhere between nine grams and an ounce of concentrate for that, which is equivalent to up to two pounds of cannabis buds.

3. Get Some Kief, Chief

If you don't know who Chief Kief is, you're old. If you don't know what kief is, you're forgiven. Kief is the dust and crystals that collect everywhere you trim, grind, or otherwise process cannabis - think of it as medicated sawdust.

Kief has a distinct taste that's halfway between buds and concentrates. Potheads of older generations are happy to collect a thumbprint-worth of kief for every ounce they grind, assuming they have a three-piece grinder (although I'd avoid anything lower than a four-piece grinder to avoid grinding your fingers).

Kief is smoked on a healthstone, which is a porous disk that can be inserted into your bowl. These can be picked up online if you know how to purchase scientific supplies overseas for around $5, but your smoke shop will start them at $15, with prices skyrocketing the instant they're embedded in glass.

You'll need a glass piece to insert the healthstone, so spend $50 to100 on something you like at a head shop.

Although it's hard not to find kief anywhere cannabis goes, it can be difficult to find in dispensaries. Some dispensaries not only carry kief, but they also sell a product called "caviar," which is a small bud rolled in so many layers of kief that it makes every issue of High Times from the 20th century wet its collective pants. You can make your own caviar, however, so focus your funds on pure kief.

For $400, you can buy up to an ounce of kief, but beware of the seller's market.

4. Eat Medicated Edibles

Grosella is a long-time cannabis chef, who started out as a pot dealer, slinging nug out of a Hello Kitty lunchbox in college. She turned her magic baking skills into one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries in Eugene. She's also a pro-cannabis lobbyist who cares about providing her patients with access to much-needed medicine.

Unlike many dispensaries I visited in Colorado and Washington, it's not just 7-Eleven candy being processed in Grosella's magical kitchen; she creates edible concoctions her patients request, including cakes, cookies, candies, brownies, and even a coffee creamer can be made fresh upon request.

People easily forget that it's not just stoner kids getting high on cannabis. Patients diagnosed with cancer, emphysema and other terminal diseases use cannabis to reduce seizures and nausea, increase their appetite, dull pain, function as a normal human being and smile as much as possible.

Not everyone can or wants to smoke cannabis. While it's gaining acceptance faster than the rights of gays, women, and our youth, there's still a stigma attached to "potheads," who could be teachers, students, parents or their children. Nobody wants to have their child taken from them over their choice of medical treatment. Dispensaries are used to seeing their customers disappear.

"Sometimes people stop showing up, and we're not sure if they went to another dispensary, started growing their own medicine, or passed away," says Grosella, who previously worked as a caregiver.

Medibles work like any other food - they can cost as much or as little as you want them to. Most medicinal shops around the country give you more free medible samples than any grocery store, deli, or restaurant. Check your grocery and food budget to see how far $500 will get you into medibles.

5. Try Tinctures and Topicals

When you speak to medical patients about cannabis, they'll explain to you the uses of tinctures and topicals. A tincture is a marijuana-infused alcohol mix that's applied as drops under your tongue. Topicals are lotions, oils, balms, etc. applied to your lips, hair, and skin.

Like medibles (and unlike bath salts), ganja topicals will cost you the same as a trip to Bath and Body Works, or whatever frilly hygiene store kids use these days. Your $500 will stretch as far as your imagination.

Tinctures are easy to make at home. Fill a jar ¾ full with marijuana leaves and trim (if adding buds or kief to enhance flavor, only minimal amounts are needed). Fill the rest with Everclear. Shake it like a Polaroid picture at least twice a day for two weeks. Strain into another jar, and use an eyedropper to apply under your tongue.

That being said, a 750-ml bottle of Everclear will run you between $20 and $80, depending on your state's sin tax. Two of these will be enough to process the half pound of marijuana you'll be able to afford with the remaining balance after purchasing the Everclear and dropping $25 on a liter glass jar, eyedropper, and eyedropper bottle.

6. Remove the THC

The difference between recreational and medical usage of cannabis can almost be reduced down to the difference between THC and CBD. Although any health professional can tell you I oversimplified that by ignoring the mental and emotional side of health, disease, and recovery.

CBD-only concentrates exist, and many growers across the nation (Grosella and Tutt included) are seeking to create higher-CBD cannabis strains for their patients. The prices above are all applicable to both CBD-Only and High-CBD products, as they are still medicated, but won't get you as high as those old fried-egg-in-a-skillet commercials back in the day.

THIS...is your brain on drugs...

7. Vape in an eCig

If you don't know about vaping yet, check out The Facts of Vaping on my personal blog. Vaping is controversial only because it's being marketed as safer than smoking. It is safer than smoking, since it removes the carcinogens, however, it's not as safe as a tincture, topical, or medible (although gluttons and people with food-related illnesses will tell you different).

Currently, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are the most used ingredients to cut cannabis concentrates to make them viscous enough to be vaped in an eCig tank. There are labs currently working with adding extra terpenes, though. This is sold in stores as honey (check out @HeadlineAlternatives on Instagram to see what I mean).
With the exception of Cloud pens (which are actually distributed by two companies in the U.S.), nearly every vape pen is compatible with the same chargers (excluding "Cigar" models, which have their own standard for higher heat output). This is because they're all (including Cloud pens) made in the same factory in China and branded by U.S. distribution companies.

Cloud pens are unique in that only proprietary attachments will fit them, although they do use the same micro-USB charger as your Android device, and they're much more durable than other coil-based systems. Cloud pens, however, don't do eLiquids.

To vape juice, you'll need an eCig battery, tank and charger. Look to spend around $50 for a decent eCigarette kit or $150 for a decent eCigar rig. This will leave you with between $350 and $450 to spend on eJuice. This will buy you approximately a dozen pre-filled cartridges, which you can think of as a dozen cartons of Marlboro "Green."

8. Get Some Glass

Glassblowing is a beautiful art form. At Denver's BIG Industry Show that preceded the 4/20 Cannabis Cup, There was over $2.5 million worth of glass on display in the showroom alone. Working bongs, bubblers, and pipes were crafted into a cavalcade of unbelievable shapes, designs, and colors.

The vendors were estimated to have brought in another $5 million worth of art throughout the weekend, much of which was being tossed off a podium into an excited crowd. People were excited because this was the equivalent of going to a concert and walking away with a professional artist's musical instrument.

For $500, you can easily talk any headshop owners or glass blower to hook you up with the bong and pipe you want. Go out and support your local artists.

9. Grow a Clone

Interested in growing your own marijuana? It's harder than it sounds, but you can get a good start by purchasing a clone from a dispensary, grower, or caregiver. Clones cost from $5 to $30, although I wouldn't spend more than $20 unless I completely lacked a green thumb.

Like that baby bunny or chick you bought your kids for Easter (and the damn kids themselves), that clone is alive and needs to be fed and loved in order to flourish. You'll need a more permanent pot, soil or growing medium, nutrients, lights.

Spending $100 on 10 or so plants and $400 on grow room supplies is the way to go here. You can find a hydroponics shop, nursery, and a variety of other plant experts in your city or town. Invest $200 in lights and the grow medium, and be sure to buy nutrients in bulk, as they won't go bad on you, and well-fed plants feed you well.

Also, if you have a medical card and live in a medical state, ask your dispensary if they'll grow your clone for you. Normally they'll do this in a sharecropping-style agreement, where you get free pot, minus what they keep for themselves.

10. Sprout a Seed

Sprouting a seed is the same as growing a clone in the same way walking back into your kid's life in their teens is the same as staying up all night with them as a toddler, no matter how big a bitch their mom is.

Once you've gained a green thumb, you'll want to start growing from seeds. You'll need to know how to tell the difference between male and female, breed new strains, keep them from becoming transvestites, fight pests and disease, and learn bonsai techniques.

Seed prices can vary from free to $30, until Monsanto and Phillip Morris can start filing those patents.

If you want to invest in the cannabis industry, I'd highly recommend investing in seeds $500 can get you at least one seed of every cannabis strain in existence, with $20 left over to get a trinket shelf or jewelry organizer to keep them straight.

11. Make Some Concentrate

Once you begin growing your own cannabis, the prices above no longer matter. As illustrated above, cannabis processors and growers all have different methods of producing profitable product. Think of it as being able to produce both crude oil and refined gasoline.

For $500, you can't afford one of those steampunk-looking, closed-loop systems. Those things can cost from $10,000 to $200,000. You can, however, put together a solvent extraction kit. This gets into Breaking Bad territory, so I'm not going to break this backyard chemistry setup down for you. Google elsewhere.

12. Buy a Penny Stock

If you're going to gamble, it may as well be on a bubble. Expert investment in a bubble can reap huge benefits. Marijuana is a cash business, the federal raids you hear about in the news aren't because of the drugs - they're because of the money laundering. That's how these people are being tracked.

It's never good to funnel drug money into federally insured deposit companies. It's never good to accept investment money from criminal syndicates. Certain bad business practices will get you in trouble. These are what you're looking for more than the actual product or service the business provides.

Cannabis companies are monitored more closely than the banks when they're audited by federal authorities. Although they're not monitored often either. Speaking as a whistleblower, the best investment advice I can give you is to focus on the company's ethics.

I, myself, cost both QBE and Bank of America's stockholders dearly, and my drop in the bucket negatively affected many loan servicer and insurance tracker. Investors in unethical companies are never safe, regardless of what market they're sold on.

Few respectable stock traders deal with the markets you can buy stock in cannabis stocks on, and they're tracked less so the risk isn't worth it. You want above-the-table dealings that are on the record.

The penny stock trade we track at MainStreet is essentially Wall Street's "Black Market," (or Diagon Alley's "Knockturn Alley," if you prefer) and you'd do well to remember any of one stock can disappear at any given moment. Do your research.

So get to know the local marijuana businesses in your area - these farmers, scientists, artists, activists, and entrepreneurs. Ask them how you can contribute by pulling $500 of your hard-earned cash out of the banks to invest in their business.

Tell them Brian Penny sent you...

Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower and writer.