Budtenders at licensed cannabis dispensaries are in a role similar to other retail jobs. You are expected to have knowledge of the products, awareness of what’s new and what’s on special, and the ability to communicate that info to inquiring customers. But there are some aspects of the job that are unlike many others.
In addition to facing background checks and mandatory licensing in some states, budtenders are often asked medical and legal questions that their counterparts in other industries would never encounter. For example, it’s hard to imagine a customer at a liquor store asking the clerk about the effects of beer compared to whiskey, or seeking advice on where they should go to consume the bottle of wine they purchased.
Budtenders are also frequently asked to play doctor by patients and consumers who want to know more about the medical benefits of cannabis and whether it is right for them. Sources for such information can be hard to find, leaving many people starved for quality, thoughtful guidance. Not surprisingly, they often turn to the workers at their local cannabis dispensaries for information.
The problem is that budtenders are not doctors and they are not attorneys. Therefore they need to avoid acting like them and providing certain types of medical or legal advice that could create problems for themselves, their employers, the broader cannabis industry, and, most importantly, for consumers.
A study released last month in Colorado highlighted the sensitivities surrounding these types of communications between marijuana business employees and the public. Researchers conducted a telephone survey in which two people posing as pregnant women called hundreds of adult-use and medical marijuana dispensaries to ask whether they would recommend cannabis as a treatment for morning sickness. About 69 percent of surveyed dispensary employees recommended cannabis, and Westword reported:
Less than a third of the employees contacted told the callers to consult their health-care providers without being prompted by the caller. And nearly 36 percent told the callers that it was safe to use cannabis while pregnant. “After eight weeks, everything should be good with consuming, like, alcohol and weed and stuff, but I would wait an extra week,” one employee reportedly said.
Not surprisingly, the study sparked debate about the safety and efficacy of marijuana for pregnant women. It also resulted in some discussion about the sting-style data collection employed by the researchers. But putting all of that aside, it highlighted an important question — should budtenders be providing callers with this type of medical advice? No, they should not.
The dispensary workers were surely well-intentioned, and it is quite possible that some of them are well-versed on the medical research surrounding marijuana and pregnancy. They might even be more knowledgeable than some health care professionals. But they are not health care professionals, so they must be careful not to step over the line into providing medical advice.
Instead, they should follow a clear set of talking points and best practices that balance their desire to be helpful with the limitations placed on any non-medical professional. The same rule applies when addressing questions about legal issues and the effects of cannabis. For example, when a customer who just bought a pre-rolled joint asks if they can smoke it in their hotel room. Or when a first-time consumer asks how much they should consume and how long it will take to feel the effects.
It is up to cannabis businesses and industry organizations to ensure these employees are able to properly address these types of consumer questions. They have done a lot of work in this area to date, but their job has just begun. With new employees joining the cannabis workforce daily, laws and regulations constantly evolving, and new products constantly being introduced to the marketplace, there is an ongoing need for training and education for budtenders and other dispensary workers who communicate with the public.
Simplifya wants to help, so we are teaming up with Cannabis Trainers and the Vicente Sederberg law firm for a training event this week entitled “Say What? A seminar for cannabis business employees who communicate with the Community.” Please join us and our sponsors — the Cannabis Business Alliance, the Marijuana Industry Group, Lightshade Labs, and Native Roots — for a primer on best practices and some tips for handling tricky medical and legal questions legally and responsibly. The class we be held Thursday, June 14, from 5-6:30 p.m. at Vicente Sedeberg’s Denver office (455 Sherman Street, Suite 390). We hope to see you there!