The role: Now that cannabis prohibition has come to an end, Canadians are able to purchase recreational marijuana legally, although there are still gaps in most consumers’ understanding of the product. Those employed by licensed legal cannabis retailers to educate consumers and assist in their purchase of marijuana products are known as “budtenders.”
“Their role is to connect the dots between the consumer and the product,” explains Stuart Ryan, Vancouver-based budtender for Hobo Recreational Cannabis Store. “We’re looking into what intent the consumer has when they’re coming in, and making some parallels with some products we have in the store, whether based on the consumption method, an activity or a mood.”
While the role is heavily based around customer service and education there are other responsibilities typical of retail settings, such as store maintenance, organization, cleanliness and display upkeep. Mr. Ryan adds that since products come prepackaged the role does not require any behind-the-scenes preparation.
Budtenders are, however, often required to maintain up-to-date knowledge about the products and brands that are available at their location. “Licensed producers come into the store to speak about their products – whether it’s a new product coming onto the shelves or a more in depth product knowledge session on products we carry – to better prepare budtenders to communicate with the consumer,” Mr. Ryan says.
Salary: According to employer review website Glassdoor the average hourly compensation for a budtender in Canada is $17, and Mr. Ryan adds that it typically ranges between $15 and $18 an hour.
“If you have a background and an understanding of both the Canadian legal market as well as the products in general, that would [facilitate] a higher starting wage,” he says “Another thing that can really improve it is your sales experience.”
After gaining some experience Mr. Ryan adds that budtenders can also advance into other, higher-paying roles such as product merchandising, store management or guest relations.
Education: Educational and licensing requirements vary by province, with some requiring mandatory training, and others only requiring a background check. For example, budtenders in Ontario are required to first receive CannSell certification, and those in Alberta are required to complete the SellSafe training program, while those in B.C. only need to apply for Worker Security Verification.
More educational programs are expected to become available as the industry matures, but Mr. Ryan suggests that formal education is also an asset, particularly in business, sales and other languages.
Job prospects: Job opportunities for budtenders are only expected to grow as legalization continues to roll out across the country.
“Things are popping up all over the place as more stores are opened,” Mr. Ryan says. “The industry as a whole is still developing … so there’s ample opportunities to start at the ground level and work your way up.”
Challenges: As Canadian consumers begin to explore the new recreational market, many have complaints about how products are being packaged and sold. As the primary point of contact for most consumers, budtenders often have to handle complaints regarding packaging, regulation and industry practices, despite not being involved in those processes.
“The hardest part of the job right now is dealing with the consumer complaints about products, when ultimately it doesn't have much to do with retail,” Mr. Ryan said. “People expect it to just be perfect on the first go, but realistically we're just dealing with a few hiccups and growing pains.”
Why they do it: Budtenders enjoy being pioneers in a newly budding industry, and are often motivated by the opportunity to help customers learn about cannabis and find products that suit their needs.
“Just the fact that we're able to speak candidly about a product that’s been under prohibition for so long is pretty amazing,” Mr. Ryan said. “You're making a difference in someone's life by offering them accurate information about the product.”
Misconceptions: While budtenders are required to have a wealth of knowledge about the product, some might assume that they are required to consume it, or are permitted to do so on the job. “We have a zero-tolerance policy,” explains Mr. Ryan. “We’re not consuming any products – that goes against policy – we’re speaking from an educated perspective on the products.”
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