Budtender Qualifications: Is It Time To Raise The Bar?

Budtender training has become an issue of dialogue in the cannabis space

Who do you want selling you your medical or recreational cannabis? A well-qualified budtender who can tell you about the endocannabinoid system, or a guy resembling Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High who can tell you that “this strain gets you really freaking high, man”? Our guess is the former.

Budtender training has become an issue of dialogue in the cannabis space as more cannabis retail stores embrace the role of the budtender as integral to people’s lives. More cannabis retailers are requiring educational creds that have people who have been working in cannabis wondering if experience talks. There is a movement towards more formal budtender education as budtender education and training is finding itself in more budget lines as dispensaries work to gain a competitive edge over others with their qualified and professional staff.


A Look at Budtender Qualifications

When you look at posts for budtenders, it usually doesn’t have a firm educational requirement, making experience speak for itself. Budtenders usually need to have an enthusiasm for cannabis, and extensive knowledge of the plant, different strains, and different products. Of course, retail and customer service experience is a must. Most times, they will require you to have a clean and professional personal appearance along with a clean criminal record.

The median salary for a budtender across legal states is $32,000 per year.

While there hasn’t been an official call for budtenders to have a formal education on cannabis (or formal postsecondary education), many dispensaries are raising the bar on what they’re providing their budtenders as far as training, both as a way to increase the professionalism of the industry, and as a way to retain good staff.

Various training programs are offered by private institutions that give budtenders intensive training about cannabis, compliance, and working within a cannabis retail store. Such courses are offered by Green CultureED, Oaksterdam University, Cannabis Training Institute, The Trichome Institute among many others. They are usually 4-hours to a few days of training that will leave the budtender with a certification and most of the knowledge they need to get trained and be effective in their work.

In 2016, the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research journal posted a study called “Training and Practices of Cannabis Dispensary Staff”, showing the gap and lack of knowledge of some budtenders operating in legal stores.

Of the respondents to the study’s survey, only 55% of dispensary staff indicated that they have had formal training for their roles. Of this 55%, only 20-30% had any medical-related training, yet 94% of the respondents were making recommendations of marijuana strains to treat medical conditions.


Raising the Bar for Medical Cannabis

There is a strong call to raise the bar in the professionalism of budtenders in cannabis. Earlier this year at the National Cannabis Industry Association Cannabis Expo and Summit, there was a presentation moderated by the CEO of Wana Brands, Nancy Whiteman, entitled, “Raising the Standard for Dispensary Education: Building a Better Breed of Budtender.”

The panel discussed a standardization of budtender training, recognizing that budtenders who aren’t trained could provide medical advice where they are not authorized to. Training programs focus on the ways to work with patients to understand their medical symptoms, and to dialogue in ways that do not have the budtender making a diagnosis, or medical recommendation. The rule of thumb is to treat the symptoms and not the medical condition.

Native Roots of Colorado (who have obtained licenses to operate in Canada) includes the following topics in their training programs: laws and compliance, ID checking and sales limits, customer service and physical effects.

Most notably, the presentation addressed how dispensaries could up the ante in what they offer their medical patients by having relationships with doctors who can consult through medical kiosks on site. The presentation positioned that the cannabis retail industry would be at a great advantage if they placed doctors within specialized medical consultation areas, while the budtenders simply focused on dispensing.


Make Budtender Training a Priority

Maybe your budtenders don’t need Master’s Degrees, but cannabis has become so sophisticated that no cannabis retailer can afford to have uneducated and unknowledgeable budtenders as the face of their store.

Make budtender training a priority, and when looking for your budtenders, see if they have undergone any previous training. Do a review on the in-house budtender training you offer, and consider whether it could use a brush-up. Could you benefit from bringing in one of the experts in budtender training at your retail store? Is there a budget to send your budtenders on intensive budtender training? Are there eLearning modules that you can implement to up the ante in budtender knowledgeability?

Putting budtender education and training at the forefront of your customer experience will not only increase the effectiveness of your cannabis retail store for your customers, but it will increase profit and sales. Be the cannabis retail store who shows they truly care about what you do by replacing Jeff Spicoli with a knowledgeable, professional budtender who is ready to help people understand cannabis in a way that benefits them most.


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