An article published earlier this week in The Cannabist, brings attention to a very real problem in the industry today… a serious need for better budtenders and a drastic lack of training for those already in the circuit. The cannabis industry is evolving almost as quickly as it is growing and the customer base that many dispensaries are used to seeing is shifting. As the legal industry continues to expand and people become more discerning about their cannabis purchases, dispensaries, and the budtenders they employ, are going to have to shift with it.
Evolution is a Good Thing
In the beginning, there was a certain “rock-star” appeal to being a budtender and generally these positions were held by women… very beautiful women. In the beginning, the majority of the purchases were made by men, thus making this a very clever marketing ploy to gain repeat customers. However, today’s market is bringing an influx of women and seniors to the market who are looking more for natural remedies to what ails them and they want to make educated decisions. These patients could not care less about what their budtenders look like, they simply want sound, well thought out, valid answers to their questions.
Suddenly, the market demands brains over beauty. (Don’t worry fellas, there are still annual contests for “Hottest Budtender” in many cities.)
Another problem with finding quality budtenders in the industry is the low starting salary. At around $12.00 an hour in Denver, many fast food restaurants pay better. This creates an interesting dynamic in the potential employee pool because many are young without families to support or any major bills to pay; and most times, they are looking for a job in the cannabis industry more for the fringe benefits than out of passion for the job. While this isn’t always the case, a quick glance through comments on social media, people are clearly fed up with dispassionate sales people calling themselves budtenders.
Priority Number One: Education
When dealing with a product that produces psychoactive effects, in a brand new legal market, where people might be trying marijuana for the first time ever, the last thing the budtender should want to happen is for that person to have a bad experience potentially ruining their openminded approach to the plant. When budtenders don’t explain the products, explain the effects, and give the consumer some idea of what to expect, not only are they not doing their job, they are doing a disservice to the cannabis industry in general.
People wind up in the emergency room fairly regularly because they’ve eaten too many edibles and they are “too high.” In fact, in a report released last year in Colorado, ER visits nearly doubled, and many of them were tourists. This is a direct result of consumers not getting educated before they consume the product. While the State has attempted to address some of these concerns with their website GoodtoKnowColorado.com and campaigns like “Start Low, Go Slow” to help budtenders educate their clients… well, you’ve heard the old adage “you can lead a horse to water.”
As the “rock star – cutting edge” feel wears off, and cannabis becomes more main stream, budtenders are forgetting that they are still beacons of hope in a cloudy sea of misinformation, myths, and propaganda. Outside the great State of Colorado, people are still hearing stories of peril on the evening news about the crazy “new” drug kids are doing today, called “Shatter!”
Better Educated Patients
However, as legalization spreads across the nation, education and enlightenment are following close behind. People are becoming more aware of the benefits of cannabis; and while many will do their own research and educate themselves, many more will continue to rely on their budtender. Why do the research when you can ask a well-educated budtender who you trust? The key word in that sentence is “trust.”
While a budtender is not legally permitted to give medical advice under any circumstances, a good budtender is educated in the products they sell, they understand the different effects of the cannabinoids, and they will take the time to help the client understand them, too. This isn’t to say that the budtender will always be right the first time, the process of finding the right cannabis or cannabis-product can take time, as everyone has a unique endocannabinoid system and biochemistry.
Better Quality Dispensaries
Just as the old days of “scoring a three-fingered lid” and Cheech and Chong style hippie stereotypes are slowly fading away to soccer-moms vaping after a stressful day, many dispensaries will need to change their image to keep up with the new demand for better trained cannabis advisers. In a highly competitive market, customer service almost always makes the difference in the success or failure of a business. If customers do not trust the person behind the counter, chances are they are not going to buy products from them.
The cannabis industry is evolving; through science and technology cannabis researchers are uncovering more reasons every day for people, suffering from a plethora of ailments, to look to cannabis for hope. Unfortunately, if dispensaries, and budtenders alike, do not start to understand the importance of their roles in keeping the cannabis industry out of the hands of big pharma… the US government will gladly take their jobs away, along with the freedom of hundreds of thousands of Americans who use the plant legally. Misinformation, lack of education, and apathy towards the customer will only lead to more negative connotation about marijuana and the industry in general.
Although the entire premise of marijuana use has been set in a “counter-culture style” which rallies around individuality, free-spiritedness, and festival atmospheres, a growing majority of customers are coming to the cannabis industry from a completely different mindset. Dispensaries need to start being more discerning of the image their budtenders are portraying, not only as the face of their businesses, but the first impression, for many, to the entire cannabis industry.
While under investigation by the federal government, the future of the private cannabis industry is riding on your professionalism.