The local budtender is a fascinating role in the cannabis industry. This individual is the bridge between the patient and the industry: half retail associate, half symptom consultant. Budtenders have the unique opportunity to observe the cannabis marketplace, and provide patients with both cannabis education and personalized product suggestions.

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A good budtender must be attentive and respectful, and apply their experiences to both the patient and cannabis itself. There are varying levels of skill when it comes to  budtenders providing patients with cannabis medicine, The first step in raising the bar is for everyone to recognize that this job demands expertise.

Cannabis information is evolving. From new medical science being published to the hundreds of new strains available every season, the good budtender will always be searching for the best information to pass on to their patrons.

Know Your Cannabis

Dispensaries already hire budtenders based on their cannabis savvy, because a dispensary is only as knowledgeable as its employees. Understanding cannabis is the foundation of a legitimate cannabis industry, and being able to explain cannabis is something that starts with the budtender.

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The cannabis narrative that is currently being passed around is not grounded in fact, and this is largely due to budtenders (and dispensaries) not taking cannabis education seriously.

Responding to consumer language is incredibly important when helping someone find the best product for them. Unfortunately, the cannabis industry is still grounded in the indica/sativa model even though geneticists, horticulturalists, and doctors agree that this assessment is biologically too simplistic, if not entirely inaccurate.

The All-Too-Simple Model of Cannabis Genetics

The All-Too-Simple Model of Cannabis Genetics

Still, many cannabis businesses are engrained in the idea that cannabis is either elating or relaxing, and that everyone responds consistently. This misinformation is potentially steering patients away from the best medicine options for them as an individual.

The budtender is not responsible if a patient has no interest in learning beyond indica and sativa, but all budtenders should set their personal standards of cannabis knowledge to the best information currently available.

Education brings patrons back to your counter. If you are respectful and help patients learn more about the medicine that is bringing them relief, you will develop consumer trust. On the other hand, if your patrons find out that the information you are circulating is defunct and inaccurate, they will lose respect for your professionalism.

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Keeping up with scientific studies and medical journal articles about cannabis is the best practice for passing on cannabis information. Many large news publications are devoting headlines to cannabis science and medical breakthroughs. One of the most complete resources for cannabis science is the National Center for Biotechnology Information. There are also several wonderful books on cannabis history and medical research that allow budtenders to explore cannabis to the farthest depths:

Know Your Menu

Just like a good waiter will study their restaurant’s menu, a good budtender should be fully aware of every product on their dispensary’s shelves. This does not necessarily mean trying every single item, but a conscious effort to research products and brands will allow for more diverse suggestions for patients.

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Everyone responds differently to cannabis, and budtenders who don’t know their menus are the most likely to get stuck when helping patients find appropriate cannabis products and strains.

One of the best ways for budtenders to research the products at their dispensary is to listen to patrons. Observing patron trends can illuminate which brands are the tastiest, or which products are duds.

If there are noticeable trends, a good dispensary will be able to absorb the reasons why patients are drawn to these products in particular, and pass that information on to other patients.

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Exploring the menus of other dispensaries is also a great tactic for remaining the most informative budtender. Consumers are becoming more aware of brands, and if your dispensary does not carry their favorite product that is available elsewhere, it is important to have quality alternatives in mind.

Budtenders should be able to justify all of their prices without ever being publicly dismissive of manufacturers or other retailers. General positivity toward the cannabis industry promotes support from within the community.

Professionalism and Respectful Work Ethic

The customer is always right. Waiters deal with this expression on a daily basis. Budtenders must also take great care to respect their patrons, maybe more so, because the budtender is not around to remedy their patron’s potential discontent with the medicine.

3/18/14 Photo by Daniel Berman/www.bermanphotos.com

Listening to the patient sounds like an incredibly simple step for budtenders, but this is often the biggest hiccup during the procurement of medical cannabis. The patient walks up to the counter, exchanges formalities, and then either knows exactly what they are looking for, or does not.

When the patient does not know what they want specifically, they may explain their condition(s), or they could state that they like indica chocolates or sativa hard candies. They may ask, “What’s new?” or “What’s popular?”

Good budtenders know to take the extra time to have a personal conversation. A quick transaction is not always the best for building consumer trust. Of course no one likes a long line at their local retail store, but who would ever consider going back to a doctor that didn’t even look them in the eye before giving a diagnosis?

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Budtenders must carefully navigate this fine line between retail and medical, and it seems the best budtenders all share a deep respect for each patient as a unique individual. We sat down with one of our friends from Grass Roots dispensary in San Francisco, and talked about the responsibilities of budtenders:

“It’s important to know your patient and customer. Most importantly, budtenders need to treat new patients extremely delicately. Good budtenders always refer to small doses, and recommend strains that serve a purpose, not just based on flavor or aesthetic. Just because something is popular does not mean it is the right fit for everyone.

As we go from medical to recreational, it becomes even more important to educate and explain the effects of different products, and how to best use these products to create a more positive life for the patient and customer. The fear is that as cannabis transitions to recreational, more and more budtenders will forget the true responsibilities we hold to our patients and customers.”

-Michael H. from Grass Roots dispensary and author of The Budtender’s Bible

Future of Retail Cannabis

Now that states are legalizing cannabis for recreational use, budtenders have been put into situations in which their suggestions carry little to no medical responsibility. However, the good budtender does not abandon cannabis knowledge just because it is a recreational consumable.

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Cannabis means so many different things to so many different people. It is a plant with spiritual powers, recreational delights, and medical benefits.

As the cannabis industry emerges from the shadow of prohibition, it is critical that budtenders apply their knowledge of medical cannabis to all retail cannabis. The cannabis community is embracing legalization, and the good budtenders know it is their duty to circulate the best cannabis information possible.

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