To say budtenders are essential to the cannabis industry is an understatement. These frontline workers help consumers make sense of the many product options in Canadian cannabis.
As the industry grows more complicated—with new products, regulations, and trends—customers are leaning on the expertise, tastes and suggestions of their local budtenders more and more.
In turn, budtenders are doing a good job of giving a regulated and highly controlled industry a welcoming, human face.
Budtenders are a wealth of knowledge—what’s hot, what’s not, and all the products in between. To get a sense of what the industry looks like from their vantage point, Leafly spoke with budtenders from across the country.
Budtenders are more valuable than branding
In the early legalization days, producers often thought that brand loyalty would be a strong driver of sales. Hoping after a while, people would purchase their favourite brands, like the way they buy wine and beer.
It hasn’t panned out that way, says budtender Elliot Borer. “It’s actually kind of rare that someone comes in looking for one specific thing,” says Borer, who works at the independent dispensary The Good in Ottawa.
“People are pretty open to suggestions, and hearing what we like and what we think they would enjoy.”
This extends from experienced users all the way down to completely green newbies who might be coming into a dispensary for the first time.
“I do like that there are people who never would have considered consuming cannabis in any capacity, now coming in and wanting to have conversations about it,” says Aniya Jacob, who’s worked at Victoria’s Village Bloomery dispensary for 6 years.
“Usually they’re the ones who I find are the hungriest for information, because they don’t know anything. It’s totally new to them.”
What’s popular might surprise you
Even though there is a wide range of new and trendy ‘2.0’ products available, budtenders are also seeing customers continue to gravitate towards classic products—dried flower, especially.
Having simple recommendations on hand for all types of customers is helpful, Borer says. Lately, he’s been pointing customers towards OGEN’s dried flower offerings, particularly their Freshly Baked sativa and Gas Berries indica.
“I just really love their flavour profiles, and their bud is cured really nicely,” he says. “Not crazy pricey, kind of mid-range.”
Customers are still responding well to new strains of flower, something that tends to excite the purists.
Alec Weston was working at Ottawa’s second Superette dispensary location for the introduction of Cookies, an American brand founded by the Bay Area rapper Berner, who partnered with Gage Cannabis to sell in Canada.
“The Cookies drop was pretty crazy,” Weston says. “I think we sold out in two days. They’re obviously a very recognizable brand, famous brand in the States, and the hype around it really helped drive the sales.”
CBD is still popular among customers looking for a more mellow product, or something that they can use throughout the day. At a west coast dispensary like Village Bloomery, with a bit more of a plant-based wellness vibe, the cannabinoid is still a top performer.
“CBD is hot in our store,” says Jacob. “All different types of CBD. People love CBD gummies, cannabis, tinctures, capsules, all that stuff.”
Though most budtenders still seem to be firmly in the dried flower camp, Borer did offer a recommendation for Collective Project’s line of infused beverages.
“Those ones I really love,” he says. “Bringing actual beverage companies in [to the industry] has helped. They seem to be doing a really good job with their stuff, and they’re some of the most popular ones.”
Craft cannabis reigns supreme
When it comes to the products budtenders hold in the highest esteem, the craft cannabis sector is clearly making its mark on the cannabis pros who are looking for attention to detail.
“I really love Pistol and Paris, I think they’re great,” says Village Bloomery’s Jacob. “Their Orange Tingz, specifically as a strain, is just so gorgeous. The flavours are amazing, it’s got great orange cake flavour, you feel so hugged and clear. Yeah, it’s a beautiful strain.”
In Alberta Maddison Jacobson, a budtender at Lake City Cannabis in Chestermere says that craft cannabis has had a rough go against some of the larger producers—many of the bigger cultivators have been undercutting them on prices, she says, as low as $17 for 3.5 grams.
“It’s been a little bit of a war over here, lately,” she says. “Our lowest is $17 and no micro cultivator or smaller grow can compare with that.”
Even though it’s been a harder sell, she finds herself often pushing craft options ‘so hard’. And it’s starting to pay off.
“Enthusiasts are so excited,” she says. “The people that want to learn about cannabis are all over [craft].”
“I always try and go for the micros, because they’re popping out the highest quality in my opinion. And they’re the most attentive to it — it’s all hand-trimmed, no machine. A bit of care put into it.”
Quality over THC content
At the same time as many producers are chasing high THC strains and trying to grow the strongest weed possible, budtenders and customers are slowly turning a corner there and working to teach customers to think about things like terpenes, trimming and curing.
“The big thing now is terpenes, and specific terpenes,” says Borer. “It’s trying to inform people that the THC percentage doesn’t matter as much as they might think it does—you can have certain terpenes that will hit you harder, no matter what the THC percentage is.”
What he sees in his day-to-day work is that this is starting to register with consumers, some of whom are now coming in and asking for specific terpene profiles.
“I think that producers are more aware of that too,” he says. “They’re trying to cover their bases and put percentages of different terpenes and stuff on their package, which is cool.”
Jacobson says that the conversations she has been having around quality are changing as more customers start to think about quality factors like freshness and moisture—two factors that are doing a lot to drive decisions among power users.
“Lots of my higher-end customers really like the tuna can style jars, where it’s childproof on the top and then you peel back that metal lid,” she says.
“Some customers won’t even think about buying a jar that doesn’t have a Boveda moisture pack in it, she adds. “I have customers where if it’s dry, that’s a complete dealbreaker. It’s really about freshness right now.”
Budtenders hold the frontlines of the industry
Budtenders truly are the unsung heroes of cannabis careers.
When budtenders were classed as essential frontline workers last year, they helped keep the industry’s wheels turning during the pandemic. Despite being left out of the spotlight, budtenders continue to drive customer education and industry sales.
Borer had worked in a few different dispensaries before but feels at home working at The Good. “It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re coming in to talk to people about weed,” he says.
In an industry that has proven it can be unstable and unpredictable for those inside it, the folks working as frontline budtenders seem to express genuine enjoyment for their future in the community.
“I’m just fortunate to be a part of the industry,” Weston says. “I’m seeing people, and myself, given opportunities, careers—not even jobs, careers—where I could support myself long term. It’s really beautiful to see people in the industry thriving.”