For many people hoping to break into the growing cannabis industry, ‘how to become a budtender’ is usually the first question asked. These days, medical marijuana dispensaries are a big part of the landscape in many urban and even suburban settings in the US. Why wouldn’t you want to get in on this exciting new industry?
But especially for people new to the scene, it can feel intimidating. Landing that dream budtender job can seem out of reach.
How to Become a Budtender
Become a budtender at your favorite cannabis dispensary by following these steps:
- Develop strong product knowledge inside and out, and get cannabis training if you need it.
- Be totally familiar with all cannabis consumption methods from edibles to concentrates and be able to talk to customers about each of them and their benefits.
- Understand how cannabinoids and terpenes work, and be ready to explain the science to dispensary customers.
- Polish your customer service skills.
- Know cannabis markets and industry trends; can you point out what’s hot and what will be next month?
- Be part of cannabis culture, and an advocate for legalization.
That’s a lot! Read on for our complete guide to how to become a budtender.
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What Is a Budtender?
A mashup of “bud” and “bartender”, a budtender does a lot more than the standard bartender. Yes, they serve and know cannabis and related products like a bartender serves and knows alcohol and cocktails, but that’s about the end of the resemblance. A good budtender keeps up with industry trends and news, understands the effects of cannabis and can interpret them for both medicinal and recreational users, and knows their store backward and forwards.
The very best budtenders connect with customers on a personal level to deliver deep cannabis knowledge. This blend of specialized skill and social finesse is actually not something you see every day.
Budtenders are the front of the house for the dispensary, so their enthusiasm matters, and they are key to the brand’s reputation. It is often a great budtender and their winning cannabis recommendations that bring customers back to a dispensary.
Budtender jobs are entry-level positions, with the average salary between $25-$35k per year. It’s not always the easiest job to land, but once you do, it’s a great place to start working your way up the ladder in the cannabis industry.
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The History of the Budtender
Merriam-Webster’s definition of budtender from March 2018 refers back to author Linda Yellin. Yellin used the phrase in 1997 according to the dictionary, and it probably dates back to at least the 1990s.
As legalization of medical marijuana boomed throughout the naughts, the budtender position grew more prominent, especially in Washington, California, and Colorado. Once again, the needs and requirements of the budtender job changed a bit, and what had once felt like a more marginal “drug sales” job became more of a helpful advisory position. Budtenders were talking to medical marijuana patients in totally different ways than unlicensed dealers ever had.
The Modern Budtender
Modern budtenders evolved alongside adult-use cannabis laws. This means budtenders must balance the wants of the recreational cannabis consumer with the needs of the medical marijuana patient. That’s a broad and deep range of product knowledge—not the easy job some may think it is.
Budtenders cope with real pressure on the job, not just a fun, “stoner” atmosphere. There are strict rules that have to be followed to maintain compliance. Any mistake the budtender makes can potentially impact the entire brand and dispensary, not to mention their job.
And as the cannabis industry changes, the budtender position continues to evolve. New data emerges in this vertical all the time, and with it new products and forms of use. Once indica and sativa or how much THC were the only questions, but today a budtender has to master cannabinoid and terpene profiles, psychoactive effects, micro-dosing, medical benefits of cannabinoids, and more.
Budtenders no longer weigh-out flower in most legal markets, due to regulations that require pre-packaging of cannabis in certain kinds of production facilities. However, budtenders now have to take on accepting cash-only payments and running the register.
Another change for modern budtenders is that there are many budtender jobs available. For example, a 2019 report found that legal cannabis in New York State alone would add 40,000 jobs.
These days, too, you see many budtender certification and budtender training programs popping up, especially online. Most of these training courses are focused on helping applicants understand what cannabis companies are looking for, and showing them how to better meet what’s in a standard budtender job description. (In other words, it’s not usually a lot of specialized information, so be wary as you decide how to spend your money.)
So, does the term budtender still fit? Honestly, not really. This is why in job listings for this role alongside “budtender” you’ll often also see more medical, professional, business-related terms such as “dispensary agent,” “patient specialist,” “patient consultant,” or even the classic, “customer care associate.”
What Does it Take to Be a Budtender?
It takes significant effort, knowledge, and preparation to be one of the best budtenders. Here are some of the basics:
Know Local and State Cannabis Law and Policy. If you don’t, you’re almost certainly going to lose any budtender job you get.
Don’t Have a Criminal Record. ‘Nuff said.
Know the Differences Between Concentrates, Flower, and Other Means of Consumption. A good budtender understands the differences between tinctures, oils, edibles, concentrates, and vape liquid. They know how to use them, and how they usually affect consumers, which allows them to make recommendations as to optimal solutions for each customer.
Know Cannabis Strains. Remember, recommend that 23% THC content Cookies strain you have on hand to the right customer; same with that CBD-heavy strain. The guy who’s partying all weekend is probably going to love the Cookies, and the patient looking for migraine pain relief may want to hear about the CBD strain (and probably does not want to be lost in a THC fog all day, either).
Detailed Product Knowledge. Budtenders can go way beyond describing general cannabis effects. They are ready to talk about flavor, aroma, potency, source cannabis, farming, harvesting, and processing methods, dosage—you name it.
Detailed Knowledge of Devices and Implements. Any great budtender has a wealth of information and experience with anything used to vaporize, smoke, or otherwise consume cannabis. Be ready to walk new customers through how these work. Big, complicated dab rigs in particular might demand some education for people who are new to cannabis, so take the time and be patient. Be that person who welcomes them to the scene.
First-Hand Experience. It just makes sense; if you’ve used the marijuana product itself, you are more effective at selling it and you get more conversions. Plus, you can make patients feel much more at ease and provide excellent customer service if you describe in your own words how you experienced a product.
Character, Trust, and Personality. Budtenders are the face of the dispensary, so it’s critical to show you have great character and will earn the trust of the business. Your honest, open personality can win over your new boss, not to mention customers. Patients in a dispensary need to trust budtenders and their recommendations, so always listen first. Never push products patients don’t need or want.
Adaptability in a Changing Industry. Even in states where there has long been a legal cannabis market such as California, budtenders have to be adaptable. Because cannabis law is always changing, dispensary operations, rules, and policies also change frequently. How does this work in practice? Here are some examples:
- As laws change, budtending duties may too, with processes getting added to or removed from your job description;
- Surprise inspections from state cannabis bureaus to ensure policies and regulations are being followed are common;
- Small cannabis businesses often operate more like start-ups, with budtenders (and everyone else!) taking on many different responsibilities, employees and upper management working together, and everyone staying flexible.
Passion and Commitment. Passion for the cannabis industry is essential to working as a budtender. If you treat working in this role as just a job, you won’t give it the commitment it deserves. Remember, people are coming to you for help treating serious problems. So although in many ways it can feel like retail, the work ethic needed for a budtender is completely different.
Desire to Keep Learning. Given how many people are new to the marijuana industry, specific experience working in emerging cannabis markets is rare. This is especially true for people at the budtender level, who are in entry-level positions anyway. But a great budtender is also a lifelong student, always learning about new cannabis products and technology, so the desire to learn is critical for budtenders.
Ethics and Pure Motives. As with any business, many dispensaries look for a culture fit when they search to fill a budtender position. In the cannabis industry, with its all-cash banking and heavy regulations, this means people with a strong sense of ethics and pure motives. Show the dispensary why you’ll be able to manage the pressure of the role and excel in the position.
In the end, there’s a lot more than customer service to being a good budtender. Budtenders can talk cannabis history, medical benefits of marijuana, and the hot new cannabis culture and industry trends. Read and follow cannabis-related websites, magazines, blogs, and industry leaders’ social media accounts. Take the next step and attend industry trade shows. And always stay current with which strains are competition-winning and which are trending—and why.
Nailing the Budtender Interview
It’s a winning combination of personality and knowledge that wins a budtender job. Prove in your interview that you’re professional yet friendly. Be curious and ask smart questions about the dispensary that demonstrate your existing cannabis knowledge and grasp of local law. Stay courteous and respectful, even if politics or the law come up.
Remember: you’re here to walk the line between passion for cannabis and “major pothead,” so don’t give anyone the chance to call you that. Each position usually brings in many applicants, but it’s the person who is both fired up about cannabis and truly meticulous and professional that stands apart from the rest.
Conduct background research on any dispensary you’re applying to. You can be picky about where you apply. Before you jump through all of the hoops of onboarding procedures, background checks, and whatever other individual company hiring policies are in place, it pays to be sure it’s a great fit.
Pros and Cons to Becoming a Budtender
Let’s start with the biggest question: How much money does a budtender make?
According to Glassdoor, across the US, budtenders earn a base pay of about $16 an hour before taxes, or $33,808 a year, on average. But as in many other service-based industries, non-hourly compensation or tips are a big part of budtender earnings.
Tips are a great way for people to thank budtenders for help and great service. For just ringing something up a budtender tip might run 5 percent or lower, but for helping a customer for longer and answering many questions, a great budtender often receives a 15 to 20 percent tip, or even more.
Pros of Being a Budtender
Budtending can be the ideal role for some. Here are a few of the benefits of budtending:
- Budtending lets you pursue your passion, and learn more about cannabis every day.
- Cannabis science is really interesting.
- It is fulfilling to help customers with symptoms like anxiety or pain.
- The cannabis industry is growing, and being so full of possibilities, it’s also exciting.
Cons of Being a Budtender
But depending on your personality and ideas about work, budtending may not be for you. Among the downsides to budtending:
- Working with people in customer service is a must in a dispensary, and it can be draining.
- Budtending includes business and administrative duties that can be dull, not just cannabis.
- Budtenders are not especially well-paid, at about $16 an hour on average.
- Budtenders have the duty to tell people from out-of-state and other places who don’t otherwise have direct access to cannabis what the law is, which can be discouraging.
- Staying compliant with regulations while running a retail business demands making and tracking numerous changes during any operating year.
To prove your dedication to the cannabis industry, it makes sense to get your foot in the door as a budtender. And it can lead to other roles, because most dispensaries promote from within, so starting as a budtender can lead to roles in marketing, as a grower, upper management, or other areas. The hierarchy of the dispensary and its business needs shape the nature of the opportunities it offers, but this is a solid career path, especially as legalization expands into new markets.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Question 1: Is it hard to get a job at a dispensary?
No. The industry is growing enough that although there may be competition, it’s possible to find a budtender job at a dispensary. And like many entry-level positions, you can work your way up, and fill different roles over time.
Question 2: What is the hardest part about being a budtender?
The hardest part of a budtender is still seeing patients and other consumers being denied the right to medicate. But the greatest part of being a budtender is being part of the cannabis industry, something bigger than an individual person or business that really helps people.
Question 3: Does working at a dispensary affect future job status?
Most employers say that work experience in the cannabis industry doesn’t affect anyone’s chances negatively, and they are comfortable hiring applicants with cannabis job experience. And consider the idea that great, reliable job experience in any industry is likely to be seen as a bonus.
Question 4: What does a Budtender wear?
Whatever people wear in your local dispensary every day, remember that professional or business attire is the right choice for a job interview. This is true for a dispensary too, unless you were specifically told something else.