Medical vs. Adult-Use Budtenders: What’s the Difference?

Published on July 31, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Cannabis buds are laying on scales, some of them tucked into an orange pill bottle.

The cannabis industry is unlike any other, as few (if any) sectors offer products that are considered both medicinal and recreational, sold alongside each other in the same location. In order to properly cater to your patients and customers, it’s incredibly important to know whether your dispensary is in need of medical marijuana budtenders or adult-use employees. But how do you make the hiring distinction when working to meet your staffing needs?

Adult-Use Budtenders

Adult-use budtenders are people who work in a legal cannabis dispensary that sells to people ages 21+ who have valid identification. When hiring a front-facing budtender to work in your cannabis dispensary, one of the most important basic traits to hire for is top-notch customer service skills and a friendly demeanor. This role is going to be dealing with a lot of people who have varying cannabis experience, so knowing how to assist different customers with unique demographics and needs in a patient, likable manner is crucial.

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Another good tip to keep in mind when hiring an adult-use budtender is to gauge how extensive their knowledge of cannabis is. If someone has excellent customer service skills but little understanding of the different strain types and/or how they affect the human body, they might not be an ideal hire if they can’t get up to speed relatively quickly. With so many strains and products available, it’s important for budtenders to have a solid base of knowledge about cannabis so they can provide the best possible recommendations to customers and be able to answer a variety of questions about consumption methods and effects.

Medical Marijuana Budtender Training

Medical marijuana budtenders need the aforementioned customer service skills and cannabis knowledge, plus they would ideally have an interest or prior background in a medical field, as well as knowledge or training about medical marijuana and patient needs.

The lack of federal regulation means that each state’s medical marijuana system is different, but some states are more advanced than others in training medical marijuana budtenders and personnel to assist medical patients properly. Most states with a functional medical marijuana program in place require some kind of training or certification for physicians, but budtenders are rarely required to undergo similar training.

Washington is currently the only state that requires budtenders to take any kind of certification program, where medical marijuana consultants must complete a 20-hour training course to learn more about medical marijuana qualifying conditions, their symptoms, and how to effectively treat them with cannabis products. The District of Columbia has a similar Medical Marijuana Certification Provider program, which allows the permit holder to provide medical marijuana training and education certification programs.

Budtender Resource: How to Help Your Patients Choose the Right Strain

Conversely, Oregon has no such requirement for employees in the cannabis industry, but the state has been very clear that their emphasis has always been on patients first and adult recreational consumers second. Oregon was an interesting situation because, rather than recreating the entire licensing structure, lawmakers chose to open dispensary doors to all consumers 21 years of age and older while still treating registered MMJ patients as a top priority.

California and Colorado do not require any form of certification or training to work in the cannabis industry, but both states also offer several educational programs that make it fairly easy to gain knowledge about working with medical marijuana patients. Most of these programs offer online courses as well, which means that budtenders seeking an education are not limited to Colorado or California, either.

Education, however, shouldn’t be limited to medical marijuana budtenders. Anyone working in the cannabis industry, medical or adult-use, will be far more likely to succeed with extensive knowledge to back up their experiences. Becoming well-versed about basic cannabinoids, how they affect the endocannabinoid system, and local cannabis laws and regulations will give dispensary staff an advantage and can help your business get ahead in a new and uncharted industry.

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Ongoing education is an essential part of the cannabis industry’s journey to success. Keep in mind that regulations are constantly changing as the industry continues to grow, so today’s best practices may become tomorrow’s certification requirements. Stay up-to-date on your state’s budtender employment requirements to know whether your staff needs certain training in order to legally work with customers or patients. In the meantime, keep the nuances between adult-use budtenders and medical marijuana budtenders in mind when hiring new employees so you can decide how best to serve your dispensary’s clientele.

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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