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Nugs of wisdom: Advice from Leafly’s top 18 budtenders of the year

Published on October 19, 2022 · Last updated October 20, 2022
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Leafly surveys budtenders this fall to award the best strains and brands in each legalization state. On Oct. 20, we’ll give out gifts to respondents. Strain and brand awards on Dec. 8. (mast3r/Adobe Stock)

To paraphrase Big Daddy Kane, budtendin’ ain’t easy. Is it hospitality, healthcare, or recreation? It’s actually, in most cases, all three—and not everyone can do it. To celebrate the thousands of budtenders across the US that serve their cannabis communities day in and day out, we’ve highlighted 18 cannabis workers who embody what it means to do this job and their greenest advice for succeeding behind the dispensary bar. Roll one up for yourselves! 

Allison at Grass Monkey Cannabis Company in South Portland, Maine

“Learning in the cannabis industry never ends, so just know that there is always something new to learn, no matter how long you’ve been budtending. Listen and make conversation with your customers about their needs! It may sound obvious, but we easily get lost in the greatness of the products we carry and forget why people use them. Asking your customers questions that direct them to what they need can help you find the right product for them.”

Brian at Year dispensary in Portland, Oregon

“There are new insights being made every day in our field, and staying on top of emerging phenomena and information is crucial. I want everyone in our business to acknowledge the pioneering drive of people who risked their lives to bring the plant to people. There are too many people still in prison for this plant. Activism in our profession, I feel, must be our duty. We are at the forefront of legitimizing an ancient human activity that sparks the human imagination and heals its soul.”

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Nina at Brothers Cannabis in Bangor, Maine:

“When helping your customers, always see what the vibe is! Make sure they get a feel for what it is you’re selling and allow them to get the whole experience by showing them the products while explaining the effects and how it could potentially help them. Give feedback about which products you personally like; it always helps the customer get a feel for what is popular and well-liked.”

John at NuVue Pharma in Colorado Springs, Colorado:

“Never take what you are doing in this industry lightly. We have followed in the footsteps of pioneers to be able to become pioneers ourselves. You will undoubtedly hear the negativity about the typical stigmas of our industry and how you need to ‘get a real job.’ But understand that we are all a part of something so huge, that so many fought for us to be able to be a part of it. This will never be just a job. Thank you for making a difference.” 

Brandon at Good Buds in Quincy, Washington

“I would tell you, as someone who has experienced both sides of the counter, that just simply giving someone a product and sending them on their way isn’t what it means to be a budtender or a customer. I don’t ever steer people wrong—that person trusts me with the psychological change they could experience due to the product. It’s important to make it as positive an environment as possible to continue pioneering the industry world so eventually everyone has access to experience it and be an example of a quality industry.”

M. Quinn at Pinnacle Emporium in Buchanan, Michigan

“I believe every budtender can and should be knowledgeable on the endocannabinoid system, cannabinoid ratios, terpenes and strain effects, extraction methods, and consumption methods. Know what you’re selling. You have all the power to educate yourself and your customers. Reach for descriptive language when communicating a strain effect. Any dispensary worker can sling cannabis all day, but having knowledge will set you apart while allowing you to give the best service to the customer. Take pride in the work you do.”


Julia at High Rollers Dispensary in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

“Having a passion for cannabis is key. Using cannabis, whether it be recreationally or medically, really opens your eyes to what the plant can do for you and others. Be open to listening to patients, how cannabis can react with every mind, and learning along the way. I used to think I was a seasoned stoner who smoked everything in every way. I was mistaken! There are so many uses, compounds, science, and miracles in such a small plant, and don’t be scared that you don’t know it all or understand! We are budtenders, not scientists or doctors! Give your best advice on products that you believe are tried and true.”

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Hailey at Hazy Dayz in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“Make sure you are listening to your customers’ needs. Don’t provide them with a product or strain just because you like it or because it’s popular. It is so important that you are asking your customers open-ended questions to understand what benefits they are aiming for and about previous products and strains they have used. Every person is different and different strains may affect people differently. Being educated is extremely important in order to gain your customer’s trust. If your customer doesn’t trust your knowledge, they either are not going to make a purchase with your dispensary, or they will end up never coming back.” 

5 questions to ask that help your budtender help you

Alexander at Kip Dispensary in Cockeysville, Maryland

“Recognize that everyone’s body and metabolism are different, and we all may respond to the same medicine differently when reading studies, talking to patients, or referring to your own experience. We want to suggest patients try products that meet their specific needs or symptom relief. Cross-reference the list of cannabinoids and terpenes in a product (and their effects) with the effects the patient is looking to achieve. Most patients will experiment with a few different products before understanding how each affects them. Not everyone is at the same place in their cannabis journey, and not everyone will end up in the same spot.”

Christian at Earth Med in Rosemont, Illinois

“The ability to test products is a huge advantage in that our position allows us to give first-hand knowledge and opinions. Going along with overall knowledge of the plant, terpene profiles are a great step that grabs your customers’ attention from something else than THC percent, which a lot of customers focus their purchases on. Finally, the experience a customer has at your dispensary determines the likelihood of them returning or going elsewhere. Nothing is better than seeing a face you remember from a previous purchase and being able to connect over the cannabis and build a relationship.”

Alexandra at Preserve Oregon in Salem, Oregon

“There is a vast variety of consumers in our industry. Because of this, I take the time to learn as much about everything. Researching everything from the history of each category (strains, brands, terpenes, cannabinoids, etc.) can cater to your customer’s needs/wants. In the shop I work at, we serve many who are elderly or those facing a chronic or even terminal illness. I take it upon myself to learn anything and everything that can potentially alleviate their pain. Cannabis has had a stigma for many years, and people tend to overlook what potentially can be a great natural resource. One that could mean less time in pain, and more time with family or loved ones.”

Elizabeth at Cannabist in Bonita Springs, Florida

“Having pride in your company and coming to work with a smile. Visibly showing that you’re happy to be a part of a team and sometimes the first line of defense to stomp stigmas into the ground. I love my job and want to be educated whenever possible. While simultaneously showing compassion and empathy to each patient I meet.”

A manager at The Bloom Room on duty Wed. April 15 in San Francisco. (David Downs/Leafly)
A manager in PPE at The Bloom Room on duty Wed. April 15 in San Francisco. (David Downs/Leafly)

Taylor at Lady Jane’s Naturals in Tulsa, Oklahoma

“‘Why do you want to become a budtender?’ That question is the most important to ask yourself. The answer will distinguish attributes about yourself that make you unique amongst your peers. You must embrace your unique qualities and let them shine. The cannabis industry is full of competition. You want to be remembered. For example, my ‘why’ is: I want to bring credibility to medical cannabis. This allows for a tailored product for each patient/customer, ensuring that the patient/customer feels special and heard. This is what creates loyal customers.”

Anthony at Cannabist in Miami, Florida

“The stigma about cannabis is burned in our society’s memory. Our patients that haven’t heard about terpenes and cannabinoids are unfamiliar with the amazing results they could feel with the right strain. Terpenes are more important than THC, and quality doesn’t mean a high THC number. Engage with the patient and learn to read their reactions and interests. I’ve had dozens of customers come in for a specific product only to change their minds because of the knowledge and information they receive. Our patients are looking for the best experience, high quality, and a knowledgeable wellness advisor. Show them that’s exactly what they’re going to get when they come into your shop.”

7 questions to ask before you become a budtender

Hunter at The Remedy in Durant, Oklahoma

“Experience and try new things all the time. It will bring you up to different levels of communication and connection with your patients to get them the remedy they need. Always be curious and ask questions to get more knowledge and see a perspective in a different light. One person’s healthy habit could be another’s poison. Our patients need to know that they are cared for in all areas. We are not better than them; we are just like them dealing with the same struggles. They are our family and friends, our community, our home and we need to stretch the love and joy to all those who don’t get to have those things.”

Sean at The Living Room in Pikesville, Maryland

“I came to the cannabis industry a tired, disheveled bartender burnt out on the restaurant industry. I was sick of feeding people poisons to mask their pain and exhaustion. As a medical patient, I knew that cannabis was the better option for people in need of relief, so I shifted gears and educated myself on cannabinoids, terpenes, and the best practices for consumption. I started budtending and fell in love with the industry. The more I helped patients feel better with this wonderful plant, the more I was able to improve my own life. My days are filled with smiles of relief and joy from the amazing effects that my patients feel.”

Johanna at Pine Street Cannabis Company in Soldotna, Alaska

“Talking and forming a good working relationship helps a client to feel more comfortable and will help them to find what they are really looking for. This also helps you to recommend other things that they might enjoy. If you don’t know an answer, be honest. Do not lie to someone just for a sale. I also like to ask for feedback about a previous product they have gotten. People feel valued when you ask for their opinion. This industry is changing so quickly that staying up on the research and learning about things like terpenes and how they play a role in your high has been very beneficial.”

Basir at Blair Wellness Center in Baltimore, Maryland

“Listen to the customers, and remember their names! Making your patient feel at home by being greeted by a friendly and thoughtful budtender creates a rapport that will be long-lasting. Patient retention starts with the deals and ends with the budtender’s knowledge and experience. Providing a welcoming and personalized experience will last longer than their largest purchase. Many patients experience anxiety, especially in dispensaries, so putting them at ease makes them feel better and creates a strong patient base. You want to be ‘where everybody knows your name.’”

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Amelia Williams
Amelia Williams
New York-based freelance cannabis journalist Amelia Williams is a graduate of San Francisco State University's journalism program, and a former budtender. Williams has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle's GreenState, MG Magazine, Culture Magazine, and Cannabis Now, Kirkus Reviews, and The Bold Italic.
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