Media coverage about the cannabis industry is usually circus view of this new legal weed landscape. It offers wild estimations of the value of legal cannabis once all states come online, with numbers in the dozens of Billions. It shows the growing variety of products and tends to interview a few enthusiastic consumers excited to welcome some form of legalization. Cameras follow ganjapreneurs through expansive cannabis farms. There is nothing wrong with all of that, except that it leaves out a key group of people helping make legal cannabis a success, the budtenders.
Once a cleverly coined term that was bound to bring a giggle from the uninitiated, the budtender has become an essential element in not just the seed to sale transactional part of the equation but something on a deeper level.
Of course, the budtender is not borne of the recreational market but from a rich medical dispensary tradition. They are the gatekeepers, wisdom holders and shamans of our realm. Shamans don’t share their secrets; budtenders must.
A budtender without secrets to share or a strong knowledge of the herb, based in fact over folklore, simply doesn’t deserve the title.
“A good budtender is not only a talented salesperson, giving people amazing products, but an advocate for of the entire cannabis industry. They are the face to face connection with the public, helping destigmatize cannabis use, while showing the public through daily actions the level of professionalism that we in the cannabis industry hold ourselves to. For most of the public, the budtender is the flashpoint for how they may perceive a retail business, grower, or strain, so they hold a lot of responsibility.” – Kenji Hobbs, general sales manager, Uncle Ikes, Seattle, WA
The budtender is the frontline. He and she are the people that first time users are learning from. They must be prepared for critical questions of all variety, from the myth of the gateway theory to what a terpene is and why a consumer should care. They need to be prepared for questions about medical applications from novice and experienced patients seeking guidance.
Of course, empathy and listening skills are as important as raw knowledge. Each customer need and desired outcome is distinct. To treat customers any other way is to underestimate the uniqueness and diversity of the cannabis community itself. That means budtenders must be on their toes.
“Our clients will tell us what they need if we ask and listen to their response. Budtenders who listen closely to their clients needs will be more successful in developing an ongoing relationship with the client, and for the business, than the budtender that is just slinging weed.”– Lisa Buchanan, Medical marijuana consultant, Dockside Cannabis, Seattle, WA
And the expectation is well beyond simply slinging weed. The budtender position will become more specialized. We are already seeing that in Washington State where the department of health is currently the only one in the country approving content to train and certify medical marijuana consultants. With certification, consultants seek to establish themselves as prepared and exceptional as do the stores that send them.
Just as the connoisseur exists in other fields, cannabis will have its specialists.
As a sommelier talks tannins, so do well trained ‘interpeners’ talk terpenes, terroir and cannabinoid blends. While it can sound a bit stuffy, every field needs its purists and impassioned true believers.
In addition to the responsibility of being knowledgeable, budtenders must represent well, helping maintain compliance and staying in the good graces of the Cole Memo. Our legal pathway is a new and narrow one with a patchwork of changing laws and regulations to untangle. Retail employees must continue to be students of their trade as long as they want to excel.
In addition to all of this, budtenders help to shape customer experience by helping first time and “I smoked pot back in college” consumers to select products and estimate dosing in a way that sets the stage for a good experience. As Mr. Hobbs reminded me, “A budtender’s ability to help a customer expand their world and appreciation of the things in it is a profound and important thing, and a good budtender respects that power.”