Are Budtenders Set to Become the Next Sommeliers?
Bartenders and budtenders aren't so different.
Published on October 29, 2015

As a kind of pharmacist-meets-sommelier when it comes to cannabis, budtenders have a wealth of knowledge on all things marijuana. Much like a sommelier, a budtender is an expert on the flavors, strengths, effects and even the history of the strains of marijuana they’re selling. With marijuana-related business better than ever in the United States, this profession is becoming more sought-after in the booming marijuana industry. Anywhere with a dispensary—whether it’s in a state where cannabis is completely legalized or just for medicinal use—you will find a pool of individuals gunning for a job as a budtender.

Unless you’re spending less than five dollars on a glass of wine, you want to ensure that the wine you’re drinking complements the food you’re eating or the experience you desire—that's where a sommelier comes in. Cannabis consumption works in a similar way. The marijuana you use will make certain experiences far more enjoyable than others; therefore a knowledgeable budtender is critical. Are you going to have an active high or a lazy one? Does your back hurt? Are you having a loss of appetite? All of these questions are very important to how the dispensary-customer relationship is formed.

A budtender is someone who has extensive knowledge of all things cannabis. It’s important to know the lineage of strains, their effects, smell and strength and any other information on the types of marijuana being sold. It’s incredible to see how much the career path for cannabis connoisseurs has morphed from something illicit to something that encourages conscious consumption and expert knowledge. Employing an informed budtender will make the difference between a dispensary that grows with the marijuana reform movement and one that crumbles under the increasing demands of a well-informed consumer base.

Despite this new and niche career becoming popular, it still needs to earn its stripes within the rapidly expanding marijuana industry and in the eyes of the public. The common perception of a budtender is that they are an amateur stoner who just wants to make it easier for you to enjoy your high. While accessibility is something that marijuana reform is targeting, the industry isn’t centered around that. Much like the alcohol industry was after prohibition, the cannabis industry is thirsty for legitimacy and top-end budtenders are the golden key. By changing the perception around marijuana by using information, science and research, budtenders can provide a polished front to a changing industry.

Now, cannabis consumption isn’t something you hide in your basement—it’s permeating our culture via dispensaries and even innovative local businesses. Just like there are international wine festivals where industry professionals gather and judge wines, cannabis connoisseurs can have their own festival at a national, and even international, level. By showing that the appreciation of marijuana is a legitimate pastime (and even career) and not just for stoners, these budtenders can bring legitimacy to the subculture.

By giving cannabis consumption greater social cache, budtenders are one of the reasons the industry in increasing in cultural value. Investing in these individuals to educate and train them thoroughly is very important as they will be the ones who change perception from stoner to sophisticate.

MERRY JANE is based in Los Angeles, California and is dedicated to elevating the discussion around cannabis culture.
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