GETTIN’ THE BUDTENDER GIG: IT’S WHO YA KNOW!

I JUST WANNA SAY I MET YOU
IT’S WHO YOU KNOW

“Who You Know” by X

Budtenders are a consumer’s link to the cannabis industry, providing product and brand information, relaying important industry news, explaining regulations and taxes, demonstrating new devices, and much more. Budtenders are both repositories and transmitters of crucial industry knowledge and effectively liaise between the consumer and seed banks, growers, processors, trimmers, manufacturers, distributors, bakers, candy makers and more. I decided last year that as my kids head off to high school and college, I would very much like to find a job in the cannabis industry and combine my passion for and knowledge about marijuana with gainful employment. Lacking industry experience, a budtender job seems to be an ideal position for me to build a deep and fundamental understanding of all that is involved in bringing safe, legal cannabis products to the public.

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, there is an increasing need for companies to hire additional staff. Industry growth is a sign that legalized cannabis is succeeding, putting down roots while meeting current demand and preparing for future expansion. Companies are structuring themselves corporately in anticipation of big business dealings along the lines of the adult beverage industry. This bodes well for both the future of legal marijuana in states that have authorized its sale and use and for national legalization, generally. As the industry expands and establishes a foothold in new markets, more new jobs are created, reducing unemployment and increasing consumer spending. This is all very good news, particularly for job seekers. But it is worth taking a closer look to see what kinds of cannabis industry jobs are actually available and how accessible these jobs are to the general public.

Kris Knox, right, a bud tender, helps Kris Bunker of Boulder choose a strain of weed at the Terrapin Care Station (photo: stuffstonerslike)

From the 1970s through the 1990s one of the coolest jobs a young adult could get was a record store job. I was fortunate to work at a few record stores in my youth. One was easy to get, working as a holiday temp at Tower Records back in the day. But the other record store job was at an independent shop in downtown Santa Barbara, and the only reason I got that job was that I knew someone who worked there. I recently began applying for budtender work at local dispensaries and it is not lost on me how much today’s cannabis dispensaries resemble record stores of yore. The truth is that there aren’t many record stores around these days, so those jobs now are even harder to come by. The continuing proliferation of cannabis dispensaries, particularly here in the east San Fernando Valley, however, leads me to believe that budtender jobs are plentiful and available to the right candidates.

Although some dispensaries advertise for budtender jobs on internet job boards, others do not. Most of the listings for budtender and dispensary positions require some amount of cannabis industry or budtender experience for a candidate’s consideration. This is reasonable but it also filters out interested applicants lacking such experience yet possessing other qualities suitable for the position. And it begs the question of how one acquires cannabis industry experience if he is excluded preemptively from consideration for the only job that would provide him with that requisite experience. The best answer I can come up with at this point is that in almost all cases, the only opportunity for those who haven’t acquired budtender experience is to either know someone working at a dispensary or be a well-acquainted customer. Record store jobs work the same way.

(photo: gocaliva)

Even with this strategy, how easy is it for a customer to become so familiar to a dispensary staff that he would be offered a job even if lacking budtender experience? The short answer is that it isn’t as easy as doing the same thing in a record store. Why? Because anyone may walk into a record store and browse without buying anything, spend time talking with the employees there, ask them questions and demonstrate music literacy. Dispensaries, on the other hand, regulate customer ingress and at times require the customer to sign a legal agreement. Once the customer is in the door, there is an expectation that he will make a purchase. Dispensaries don’t allow for the kind of browsing one can do at a record store. And because dispensary shopping generally requires a budtender’s active assistance, time is always of the essence so that waiting customers may be served. The downside of this for the customer at the counter is the feeling of being rushed to make a choice and complete the transaction. This leaves very little time for an idle, getting-to-know-you chat with budtenders, and makes it much harder for a customer to establish himself as a familiar face to be considered for a job, as he could otherwise do in a record store.

Mysterious record store clerk (Photo by Sergio Bastidas/Brooks Institute, ©2008)

Another significant difference between record stores and dispensaries is that music products are generally less expensive than cannabis products. A music customer can find a desired used compact disc or elpee for, say, five dollars, but a dispensary customer generally has to spend more than that on each visit. Theoretically, a cannabis customer could buy a gram of flower for something close to five dollars, but whereas that elpee or compact disc can be played over and over, the gram is only going to last a day or two in most cases. In short, it is more expensive to patronize a dispensary than a record store, making it all the more challenging for a prospective budtender to be there to familiarize himself with a prospective dispensary/employer. Making matters more difficult, sales tax on cannabis is roughly three times more than the tax on records and compact discs. The economic challenges facing inexperienced would be budtenders clearly impedes the ability to compete for dispensary work.

Marijuana buds in glass jars on wooden background (photo: Leafly)

The growth of the cannabis industry is the result of individual cannabis businesses across the board becoming successful and expanding production and marketing operations to meet demand and increase sales. Consequently, there are many marijuana-related jobs listed that don’t require any cannabis industry experience at all, because they are corporate positions. The corporate cannabis listings include VPs, Operations, Product and Social Media Managers, Sterile Processing and Lab Techs, Sales Reps, Accountants, and the list goes on. All of these require either a corporate background or technical skill irrespective of any affinity for cannabis, no matter how passionate. My desire to work in the cannabis industry is fueled in large part by a desire for a decidedly non-corporate experience. Budtenders in almost all cases aren’t corporate, and the position, itself, is wholly unique to the cannabis industry. Marijuana and marijuana products are a budtender’s focus, leaving him free of corporate considerations, departmental budgets or production chain issues. And while corporate and technical jobs generally restrict employees to office interiors and cubicle walls, laboratories, and greenhouses, budtenders man the front lines engaging the public, meeting new and likeminded people, exchanging ideas and information and sharing a passion for cannabis.

To the north and west of where I live there are several cannabis dispensaries and it isn’t unreasonable to believe I might find a budtender job at one of them. But upon closer look, not all dispensaries are the same. The three storefronts to which I’ve submitted my resume are all successful, legal, well-run shops where any self-respecting cannabis aficionado would eagerly work. It is more than reasonable to believe that competition for budtender positions at these outlets is high, and that candidates with experience or official cannabis education or with friends on staff have the greatest likelihood of being hired. But these are three of at least ten, if not more, local dispensaries. What of the others? There are a few legal, compliant local dispensaries that I’ve yet to patronize, but I’ve avoided them thus far due to high prices. Other local dispensaries are black market or quasi-legal at best and incompatible with my approach to cannabis.

(photo: stonerdays)

For now, I’m left to continue experiencing what I can of the cannabis industry, writing, editing and publishing my thoughtful observations here at Swedish Flying Saucer. I’m happy to continue in this manner for now while seeking out opportunities to enrich my understanding of the cannabis industry and working towards my desired goal. In this manner, I will advance my marijuana industry “experience” even though technically only a layperson. I’m a few years older than most budtenders I encounter, and it is easy to see how a younger person might have an easier time establishing friendships with budtenders that might lead to a job. But folks of all ages consume cannabis for medical or recreational reasons and of them, there are those who prefer an older budtender. I’ve also noticed that a majority of budtenders I engage are female, which has me wondering if that is the norm and another hurdle I must clear in my pursuit of a dispensary job. Ultimately it is inconsequential because I am patient and determined to achieve what I’ve set out to accomplish. I have abundant confidence that as the cannabis industry continues to grow, it will carve out a budtender opportunity for me, your faithful scribe. Once that happens, I look forward to seeing you on the other side of the counter!

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