Budtenders working in weed dispensaries have a lot of influence over their customers, especially those who aren’t sure what they need, want or are looking for.
Thankfully, most budtenders are knowledgeable and very helpful.
While many started off behind the counters when the industry was still operating in the so-called “legal gray” area, they have learned on, and off, the job.
One young woman told LA Weekly that with widespread legalization, budtending has become a job to be taken seriously.
“The way we’ve learned has been a hustle. The next generation will have to go to school. There is a career in this,” said Michelle de la Cruz, a budtender at the Los Angeles-based Kushmart dispensary. “We’re going to take over alcohol and cigarettes. We’re already doing it.”
Although there is no hard data on budtenders, some research calculates that around 30,000 people work in dispensaries, which is about a quarter of the industry’s total employment, and a large part of that portion is composed of budtenders.
Like so many jobs in the cannabis industry, the role of the budtender has not yet been well researched. And there’s a reason for that.
Like all things weed-related, the feds don’t allow cannabis jobs to be counted as part of the North American Industry Classification System, which is insane considering the industry has created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and is projected to provide up to 300,000 by 2020.
Another Kushmart budtender, Sandra Andrade, interviewed by LA Weekly said her job was to “relate to what a patient needs.”
Andrade said a budtender can have a great deal of influence over what medical marijuana patients buy. They often ask her advice on what type of cannabis can help with their specific pain or condition.
In a dispensary, customers don’t select their orders from a shelf, then pay a cashier. They approach the counter and speak with a budtender.
Some customers know their order; others need to ask questions.
When a patient seeks to relieve specific medical conditions, the stakes of their product selection are higher, and confidence in the budtender is essential.
Although few budtenders have medical training, Andrade said patients with conditions like HIV, cancer and ADHD routinely ask for advice.
“Once they talk about their situation, we can relate to what they need,” she said.
A good budtender will have a nuanced understanding of the inventory available, Andrade explained, and can help steer patients toward something they will like or may help them.
“I’ve tried it before,” Andrade said she might explain to a customer. “This is how it works for me.”
Like any other decision, an expert opinion is always welcome.
In the case of cannabis, a budtender’s experience and thoughtful recommendation can carry a lot of weight.