The experience of working in a marijuana dispensary has changed exponentially over the past decade, and so has the process of how to become a budtender.
The days of discreet, hidden shops and speakeasies are behind us — today, budtenders are the out-and-proud faces of dispensaries, unabashedly sharing their plant and product knowledge to point consumers in the right direction for a wide variety of needs. As a result, it’s imperative to go into the position with extensive knowledge of the plant, thorough dispensary training for compliance, great customer service skills, and a relentlessly curious mind.
“For us, it all starts with personality,” said Brenda Gunsallus, owner of 420 Sahara and CannaStarz dispensaries and Professor of Dispensary at Cannabis Community College. “We look for budtenders who really care about people.”
But in addition to a passion for the plant, what other skills should potential cannabis retail staff have?
What do you need to become a budtender?
The United States cannabis industry has expanded in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and with that has come an introduction of a variety of skills and roles required to successfully run a legal market.
But what do you need to become a budtender, which remains one of the most essential customer-facing positions in the entire supply chain?
Extensive cannabis product knowledge
The most crucial aspect of being a quality budtender for the marijuana industry is knowing your product. Having proper cannabis training under your belt is essential — especially if you’re working in a dispensary that caters specifically to those with their med badges.
While recreational consumers might be more flexible with what they’re willing to try, medical marijuana patients can have highly specific needs when it comes to consumption methods, product types, and frequency of purchase.
To best service your clientele, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of the cannabis plant: the science behind it, the difference between terpenes and cannabinoids, and the ability to differentiate between product styles so you can make high-level recommendations to consumers who may not know what they’re looking for when they first walk into a retail setting.
“It’s really important for the budtenders to have knowledge that they can share and that they’re open to learning more,” said Gunsallus. “Many people coming into the dispensary are there for the first time, and have a lot of questions—they’re depending on the budtenders for education.”
If you want to work in a dispensary as a choice budtender, keep in mind that going into the position will be much more seamless for you if you have retail experience.
Cannabis dispensaries can get insanely busy — especially around national holidays and the weed-specific days of celebration including 4/20 and 7/10. This means an atmosphere you may have assumed would be zen 24/7 can actually get quite zoo-like at times, and you’re going to need to be able to keep up with demand without sacrificing attention to detail and five-star customer service.
“Retail is tough right now, it doesn’t matter what field you’re in,” lamented Gunsallus, reiterating her previous point regarding personality. “It’s really important to bring people in that can communicate.”
If you’ve ever worked a retail job on a Black Friday, you’ll be prepared for any cannabis holiday.
It isn’t enough just to know all of the ins and outs of the cannabis plant, or even to have extensive retail experience. To be a quality budtender, you’ll want to undergo training that is specific to the position to ensure you know the many industry-specific compliance regulations you’ll need to follow.
Many within the industry artfully liken this sort of training to that of a wine sommelier, as featured in the 2012 documentary, Somm. The film follows four people as they undergo training for the Master Sommelier Exam — an intensive course that thoroughly prepares students to effectively communicate their passion and understanding of the world of wine.
As a budtender, think of yourself as a sommelier of weed: be knowledgeable about terpene and cannabinoid profiles, flavor, color, scent, effects, and all of the other details that dictate whether an eighth of flower aligns with a customer’s desired outcome or experience.
Thorough knowledge of state laws
Depending on the region you operate in, the way you’re allowed to market and sell cannabis can vary greatly. A budtender in Colorado will be required to follow much different rules and regulations than a budtender in Massachusetts, and vice versa. Knowing your state’s laws is imperative to helping you better inform your customers about their options and ensuring that your employer is able to maintain their license and stay in business.
How much do budtenders make?
Much like state laws, budtender salaries will vary greatly depending on where you live. While a budtender in California will make around $41,126 per year, someone working at a dispensary in Montana might pull an average of $27,640 per year. In many cases, budtenders are able to add substantial tips to their hourly rates.
However, it’s safe to assume that no matter where you reside, you’ll make about the minimum wage (or slightly higher) average for your region. A budtender position is considered an entry-level role in the weed industry, but the hands-on experience and training you’ll earn on the job is priceless for whatever position you decide to pursue within the industry — especially if your goal is to remain within the plant-touching sector.
From the CEO of an award-winning cannabis brand to a dispensary’s head of security, nearly every cannabis industry position can benefit from the expertise earned during time as a budtender. As long as you go into the role with a curious mind and a willingness to continue learning, you’ll be sure to come away from budtending with extensive and thorough knowledge of the plant.