July 06, 2020 10 min read

By Laura Newcomer

When you look at the overall size of the cannabis industry, it seems enormous— so much bigger than any one person or dispensary. 

2018 report from the Joint Economic Committee Democrats found that in the U.S. alone, the cannabis industry is expected to reach a whopping $23billion by 2022. Some estimates put that number even higher.

That’s a huge number. And the truth is that a massive percentage of those dollars hinges on the activity of one extremely important role within the cannabis industry: that of the humble budtender. 

As of 2018, estimates suggest the cannabis industry supports anywhere from 125,000 to 160,000 jobs, and budtending accounts for a sizable portion of that workforce. The number of cannabis industry jobs is expected to grow to around 340,000 by 2022 and again, budtenders will account for a large portion of those positions. 

The people serving as budtenders occupy a pivotal role in the cannabis space because they help pair cannabis consumers with cannabis products.

Among other duties, their job within the dispensary ecosystem is to answer customer questions, make product recommendations, and complete the transactions that make up the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry. 

Are you hoping to join the legions of noble budtenders working across the country and around the world?

Then read on to learn what a budtender does, what a budtender’s career outlook might look like, and how to become a budtender in 2020 and beyond. 

What Does a Budtender Do? 

First things first: Before we talk about how to become a budtender, it’s important to make sure that everyone’s on the same page about what exactly a budtender does. That way, you can decide for yourself whether this is a career path that you actually want to pursue. 

As the name suggests, budtenders inhabit a role that’s similar to that of a bartender: They serve customers, answer questions, and suggest appropriate products if a customer isn’t sure exactly what they’re looking for or what might suit their particular needs or preferences.

While a bartender’s duties might focus primarily on the first two items on that list, a budtender’s work often concentrates on the last. 

Budtenders are expected to be intimately familiar with the cannabis industry in general as well as the products at whatever dispensary employs them. (In this way, you might say they’re actually more like a sommelier than a bartender!)

They’ll need to be able to clearly answer customer questions ranging from the difference between a sativa and indica to the nuances of various cannabis delivery systems (e.g. smoking versus edibles versus transdermal patches), recommendations for products that fall within a customer’s budget, the expected effects of a particular product (e.g. “Will this help me feel calm or promote a feeling of elation?” or “Which product will best relieve my muscle pain?”), and so on. 

In addition to answering questions about cannabis and cannabis products, budtenders are also expected to provide great customer service via a friendly and helpful attitude.

They’re charged with building trust and rapport with customers so those customers are satisfied with their experience and feel inclined to keep returning to the dispensary. 

Budtenders also carry out a range of miscellaneous duties such as ringing up purchases, signing up customers for loyalty programs, collaborating with coworkers, restocking shelves, and that ever-present “other duties as assigned."

As you do your research, it might be helpful to know that budtenders are sometimes called different names such as dispensary agents, patient consultants, or patient specialists. 

A Budtender’s Career Outlook

As you can see from the budtender’s job description, the role requires in-depth knowledge of the cannabis industry as well as a broad range of skill sets, especially skills relating to customer service. 

In exchange for their cannabis expertise and excellent customer service, budtenders can expect to make a median salary of approximately $33,000 annually. Along with an annual salary (or, in some cases, an hourly wage), many budtenders also receive tips from satisfied customers.

That might not sound like a lot, but the good news is that budtending is a job with lots of opportunities for career growth.

Many budtenders go on to become dispensary managers, cultivators, or company executives. You can enhance your odds of career advancement by taking an interest in different roles, finding a mentor within the company, and conducting yourself professionally at all times. 

How to Become a Budtender in 2020

Now that you’re familiar with what budtending entails, it’s time to ask yourself if this seems like an enjoyable career path for you. If the answer is “yes,” then read on to learn how to become a budtender in 2020! 

1. Make sure you meet the basic requirements.

Technically, there are very few formalized requirements involved in becoming a budtender. Because the requirements for this career path are a bit nebulous,expectations will vary from state to state and dispensary to dispensary even down to whether a budtender certification is necessary. 

That said, three requirements are consistent for all budtenders: You must possess at least a high school diploma, you must have a clean criminal record, and you must obtain the necessary work permits as determined by your state. For the most part, you’ll also need to be at least 21 years of age. 

Beyond any formal requirements necessitated by your state or intended place of work, there are also some knowledge and/or skill sets that a potential employer will look for. You’ll likely need to prove that you possess a deep understanding of and passion for the cannabis industry and cannabis products. You’ll also want to demonstrate that you possess strong customer service skills. 

2. Assess your attitude

Budtending is a customer-facing job. It’s a profession that involves encounters with a huge variety of people, all with varying needs and levels of cannabis knowledge. 

On any given day, a budtender might be expected to consult with a customer who’s looking to use cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.

They’ll interact with people who know next to nothing about cannabis products or dosing as well as more knowledgeable customers who will want to chat about things like terpene profiles, the genetics of a particular strain, or the pros and cons of various types of extraction.  

The bottom line? If you want to be a budtender, you’ll need to possess the right attitude for listening to and supporting a huge range of potential customers as well as the communication skills to respectfully educate them, share your personal experiences with different products, and support their needs. 

What’s more, you’ll need to demonstrate these skills to a potential employer. A background in retail or another customer-facing position can be a huge help here. 

3. Commit to compliance.

A budtender isn’t just expected to be knowledgeable about cannabis products and equipped to discuss those products with customers. They’ll also need to remain compliant with relevant laws and regulations at both the local and state level, or else they could put their jobs or even an entire dispensary at risk. 

For example, you’ll need to make sure you’re maintaining stellar organization to effectively maintain sales and inventory figures. You’ll also need to self-monitor so you aren’t making any unsubstantiated or misleading claims about any of the products on a dispensary’s shelf. (A good rule of thumb? Never tell a customer that a product will cure cancer!) 

Prospective employers will want to know that you’re aware compliance is part of the job and that you’re committed to responsible stewardship of their products. 

4. Learna lot(even before an interview).

As we’ve mentioned, budtenders are expected to know a lot about the modern cannabis landscape and the many different products found within it. Even if you’re a cannabis enthusiast, you’ll probably need to do some homework before you’re ready to expertly counsel customers on everything from CBD salves to dab rigs.

A sound understanding of cannabis products starts with studying how cannabis is grown,  how various products are created, and what distinguishes higher-quality products from lower-quality ones. 

If you’re looking to interview at a specific dispensary, it’s smart to conduct a scouting mission to take note of the products on their shelves. Then go home and research those products so you can demonstrate your familiarity with them during an interview. 

While you’re at it, make sure you’re keeping up to date with industry trends and major players in the cannabis space so you can respond effectively to interview questions designed to grasp whether you make a point of staying educated about the industry. Regularly reading top cannabis blogsmagazines,and/or social media networks and forums is a great way to stay current. 

5. Consider formal training (but vet certification programs thoroughly).

There are a ton of budtender certification programs out there (most of them online), but there’s currently no national standard for these programs. That means their quality and usefulness can vary dramatically. It also means that having a certificationmightget your resume noticed, but it’s far from a guarantee of employment.

If you want to pursue a certification, the good news is that many programs cost less than $300.

Before putting down money for any course, look closely at its curriculum to make sure it teaches the skills you’re looking to build. Also take a peek at the course’s graduates to see what kind of success they’ve had since completing the program. 

We’re not endorsing any particular program, but here are some options to help you kick off your search, as recommended by the Cannabis Reporter: 

  • Cannabis Training Institute (an online Dispensary Technician Training) 
  • Cannabis Trainers’ Sell-SMaRT™ (a day-long workshop that was purportedly the first program to be approved by the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division’s Responsible Vendor Program)
  • Green CulturED Online Cannabis Education (an online Budtender Certification course)
  • Medical Mariujana 411’s Cannabis Consultant Certification (an online Budtender Certification course) 
  • Trichome Institute Budtender Training (an online Budtender Training course that focuses on legal, medical, and scientific applications of cannabis, among other topics) 

Before investing in a certification course, it might be worthwhile to chat with local budtenders or dispensary managers to get a feel for whether they think these certs are relevant to your job search (or whether they have any specific course recommendations). 

6. Research prospective employers

There are many ways to identify budtender openings. 

If you know that you want to stay local, then it could be as easy as driving around your region and applying at any dispensaries with a “Help Wanted” sign in their window. 

If you want to expand your search, consider using an online search for your region or any of these cannabis industry job boards: 

Also, never underestimate the power of your network. In virtually any industry, the adage that “it’s who you know” applies. Ask around to see if you have any contacts at local dispensaries, and see if you can leverage your network to learn about job openings or score an introduction to dispensary managers. 

As you research prospective employers, remember that it’s just as important for a place of work to appeal to you as it is for you to appeal to a potential place of work. Look beyond the job opening to learn more about the company’s mission, team, and so on that way, you can get a sense of which companies might be the best culture fit for you. 

7. Refine your resume

As with most jobs, you should expect to submit a resume whenever you apply for a budtender position. 

Take your time with this step, because jobs in the cannabis industry are increasingly competitive and most of the time, your resume will serve as your first impression with a prospective employer. You can increase your chances of landing an interview (and the job) by making sure that resume is up to snuff. 

It’s helpful to highlight any customer service skills you might have, such as past employment that involves retail, sales, and so on. A background in inventory management can also prove very useful. 

Also emphasize any other work experience you might have in the cannabis industry, and try to highlight a strong work ethic. Gone are the days when all it took to work in cannabis was being a stereotypical stoner; nowadays, dispensaries want professional, responsible, and communicative staff.

It might also help to demonstrate a strong grasp of social media and other forms of digital marketing, since many dispensaries are taking their sales and marketing efforts online. 

Finally, highlight any skills or experiences that might indicate you’re a strong fit for the company’s culture. As just one example, if you’re applying for a job at a dispensary that strives to minimize its eco-footprint, it could be worthwhile to include volunteer or work experiences that relate to environmental conservation. 

As you craft your resume, make sure you’re tailoring it to a specific job opening. You’ll have much more success if you take the time to use language from and refer to skills that show up in the job posting. 

8. Prep for the interview

The job interview is where all of your research and preparation comes together. 

During the interview, you’ll want to emphasize all the skills that you’ve been developing on your path to becoming a budtender. While every interview is different, it’s a good idea to show up prepared and ready to discuss the following

  • What great customer service means to you. If you can share some examples of times that you feel you’ve provided exceptional service, even better. 
  • Your awareness of industry trends. Read up on industry blogs so you can discuss any emerging trends around compliance, newly popular products, the most popular strains, emerging research about cannabis’ effects (either medical or recreational), and so on. 
  • Your communication skills. Throughout the interview, you’ll want to demonstrate that you’re capable of listening closely, developing rapport, remaining patient, and clearly communicating your perspectives. Also prepare a few stories from previous jobs that highlight your communication and/or leadership skills. 
  • Your understanding of local customers. Are there any trends in your region around consumer demographics, preferences, and so on? Brush up on these before an interview. 
  • Your longer-term career goals. Do you aspire to work your way up the company’s chain of command? Do you hope this job will help you learn a particular set of skills or develop professionally in a specific way? Are you wanting to attend certain trade shows? An eagerness to learn about the industry and grow your career can demonstrate that you’re serious about the position. 

Don’t just come prepared to answer questions. Also come prepared to ask them.

Remember: You’re vetting the dispensary just as much as they’re vetting you. Take the time to ask questions during the interview so you can get a feel for the company’s culture, work policies, and so on.

That way, you’ll decrease the chances of ending up in a job that’s simply not a good fit. 

In addition to prepping for and nailing the actual interview, remember to follow up the day after the interview to thank the interviewees for their time and reiterate your interest in the job (assuming that you are still interested!). 

Conclusion 

On the surface, becoming a budtender might look deceptively simple. After all, there are very few formal requirements involved in obtaining employment in this role. 

But dig beneath the surface, and it becomes clear that budtending requires a great depth of knowledge and a broad skill set when it comes to managing inventory and delivering stellar customer service. 

If you think you’ve got what it takes to join the ranks of budtenders across the country and world, you can increase your chances of a successful job hunt by ensuring that you meet basic requirements, assessing whether you’re a good fit for a customer-facing role, learning as much as possible about the industry and different products, refining your resume, and researching prospective employers in advance of any interviews. 

With some patience, professionalism, and true passion for the cannabis industry, you’ll increase your odds of landing the budtending role of your dreams. Happy job hunting! 


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