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We went inside the best marijuana shop in America - here's what it was like

Melia Robinson | Jan 4, 2018, 09.50 PM IST

Courtesy of Caliva

On January 1, Californians rang in the new year with legal marijuana.

Across the state, more than 100 marijuana dispensaries have gotten state licenses (temporary, for now) to sell marijuana for recreational use. The legal market's debut brings an end to prohibition in the most populous state (medical marijuana has been legal for years in California), which is now also the biggest legal marijuana market in America.

Customers began lining up outside Caliva - Silicon Valley's top marijuana dispensary - at 7 p.m. on Sunday for sales the next day. Business has been booming. On January 1, Caliva generated about five times the revenue it pulls in on a typical day, with about 75% of customers buying product for non-medical use.

Since Caliva opened shop in July 2015, the dispensary has contributed approximately $6 million in tax revenue to San Jose, making it one of the single largest taxpayers in the city.

In 2016, we visited Caliva - named the best dispensary in America by Business Insider - to see what shopping for marijuana could be like as the industry grows up.

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I stopped by Caliva, located in San Jose, California, on a sunny weekday morning.

A receptionist greeted me and checked my medical marijuana ID card. Now that weed is fully legal, Caliva only checks for a government-issued ID, like a driver's license.

While I waited in the lobby, I flipped through a book by Leafly, a dispensary- and strain-review site, that explained the different effects that strains of marijuana might produce.

The receptionist invited me to step inside the shop. With its earthy tones and natural wood paneling, Caliva looked like a hybrid between a surf shop and an Urban Outfitters.

Graphic prints and photos of coastal living hang on the walls.

You won't find Rastafarian flags or Bob Marley shrines here. Caliva aims to bring the industry to "higher standards" — pun intended — through smart, contemporary design.

Glass display cases show off the dispensary's wares, including marijuana flower grown on the premises. Caliva operates a massive 95,000-square-foot cultivation facility.

A vape bar includes handmade porcelain and stoneware pipes from Los Angeles-based Miwak Junior. They double as coffee table art, catering to the hipster market.

A retail employee, known as a "budtender," told us that Pax is the hottest gadget on shelves. The so-called "iPhone of vaporizers" delivers smooth, consistent hits of vapor.

The edibles industry is exploding, and Caliva stocks a variety of savory treats and sweets to meet demand. They include lozenges, drinks, tinctures, and desserts.

Plus Gum, created by a former Facebook employee, delivers 25 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in weed. The gum gets users high faster than most edibles because it's absorbed through the lining of the mouth.

Source: Business Insider

Kiva Terra Bites, small candies coated in chocolate that's infused with marijuana extract, are one of the best-selling items. Each piece contains just five milligrams of THC.

Source: Business Insider

While some dispensaries keep their budtenders behind bulletproof glass, Caliva makes the interaction a more authentic one by removing barriers between patients and staff.

The budtender's job is to channel their expertise into guiding patients through the retail experience, much like Apple technicians at the Genius Bar. They train on every product.

If the customer is new to legal weed, the budtender might ask what kind of experience they're hoping for on a scale of NyQuil to DayQuil. Do they want rest or energy?

Loyalty cards give patients special perks, like two free tacos on Tuesday with every $45 purchase. Caliva commissions a food truck to park out front.

For now, Caliva only accepts cash payment.

Since Caliva opened shop in July 2015, the dispensary has contributed roughly $6 million in tax revenue to San Jose — making it one of the single largest taxpayers in the city.

How did Caliva become such a cash cow? Two words: Vertical integration.

Caliva's on-site nursery produces between 50% and 60% of the dispensary's total flower. Most dispensaries in the Bay Area source their bud from regional farmers.

Growers cut mature plants to create genetic clones, ensuring consistency from one harvest to the next. "This is not your grandma's basement," one of the growers said.

Caliva sends its plants to three different California labs to check potency and quality, and runs tests in-house to get a better understanding of marijuana's properties.

Besides the 1,000 pot plants growing out back, Caliva is a pretty typical retailer.