Budtender Etiquette 101: A Portland Perspective
Distinguished Oregon budtenders share tips on obtaining the most from your dispensary visits
Published on May 31, 2016

There was something magical about my first visit to a dispensary. The sweet aroma of fresh flower, the seemingly endless array of cannabis strains, the air of nonchalance from which my budtender guided me into a purchase I’ll never forget; an eighth of Trainwreck, one gram of Jack Herer kief, and some Bubba Kush hash. This was bliss.

It got me thinking about cannabis in ways I never imagined. I pondered the vanishing days of Ziploc sacs from a dealer’s backpack, the scourge of horrendous “Beasters” camouflaged as Kind Bud.

Times are changing as I sit here in my great state of Oregon less than a year after recreational cannabis sales became legal. Customers are calling, they want medicine. Tourists are eager to sample some of the world’s greatest craft cannabis.

Some 200+ medical dispensaries have made preparations to accommodate the new wave of recreational customers as Oregon’s legal cannabis industry blossoms.

And I realize, in all the hot madness this amazing plant has become, there’s the often overlooked topic of etiquette.

Many of us are first timers, some of us are coming back to cannabis after putting down the pipe decades ago. The retail cannabis space is changing rapidly nationwide, and as I reached out to a network of gifted budtenders for advice on the subject I realized the ages-old ceremony surrounding this plant is both purposeful and deeply meaningful.

Hands off The Merchandise

“It takes about a hundred days from clone to full cure to being market ready,” says Wiley Atherton, a budtender at Farma, a dispensary known locally for it’s attention to detail, sustainable practices and science-based approach.

“Out of reverence for the plant, which some dispensaries are going to be really focused on, don’t disturb the product, and please don’t pick it up, squeeze it, or break it. If you have to disturb the matrix of the plant, and have to break open a bud in order to smell it, you’re buying a low quality product. You’re already in the wrong place if you’re doing that.”

Respect the Power of the Plant

For many, this is real medicine. With producers taking the time to create amazing product for the marketplace, it’s important to show the cannabis, and your local shop, respect. Scott Grenfell, proprietor of Rip City Remedies, is intently focused on maintaining a quality of service that his Oregon Medical Marijuana Program patients have come to expect while opening his doors to all customers over age twenty-one.

“Remember, you’re sharing space with medical patients. Many dispensaries will allow medical patients priority over recreational customers,” he advises.

Educate Yourself

Budtenders work hard to accurately convey the nuances of the products they provide to a wide range of incoming clientele.

From aroma, experience, cannabinoid and terpene profiles, intense research and analysis goes into this plant to bring it from the farm to the dispensary. In Oregon, craft cannabis is much like craft wine, the onus is on your budtender to convey the grower’s intent.

“Your budtenders are professionals; and if they are not in that upper echelon of professional, it’s going to be very apparent...if they are, trust their opinions, trust their knowledge, and listen to the things they are telling you,” says Atherton.

“Ask lots of questions because it’s like any other shop”, adds Dez, a Portland budtender who works in one of the city’s rapidly growing neighborhoods. A ‘competing’ dispensary exists just 1200 feet away amid a strip of internationally recognized restaurants and bars.

There will be those of you who wonder "Why all the fuss?". These days, cannabis growers work the plant into varying expressions; not all strains are created equal. In fact, one grower can obtain near opposite expressions of like strains using different growing conditions. Not all Pinot Noir is the same, neither is all Jack Herer. In craft cannabis, the plant’s effects, chemical composition, and overall experience depend largely on each individual grow, much like vintage wine. While not all buyers can distinguish a 2011 Chateau Leoville Poyferre Bordeaux from a 2010, many can. Distinction is the basis of today’s new world of cannabis.

The plant is emerging from basic stoner age cultivars into a more remarkable product. Just compare buds from the 1970s or even early '90s to today’s offerings. The visual appearance alone tells the story. What once literally looked like weed trimmings is now more akin to fine diamonds. And today’s more mature shopping experience reflects that.

It's a Business, Man

“Please don’t come in expecting to be hooked-up, asking for deals,” cautions Chico, a seasoned budtender at Bridge City Collective, a dispensary with two Portland locations known for their serious take on cannabis and a warm-hearted vibe. “For deals [just like in restaurants] inquire about specials and promotions.”

Money Talks

While tipping is not mandatory, it’s always appreciated. "If you’re a recreational customer and receive stellar service, by all means tip," adds Dez.

Farma’s Wiley encourages taking it a bit further, “We know that while you’re new customers, you were smoking in the '70s and '80s and '90s. You have a tremendous wealth of experience, and we want to borrow from it, so don’t just tell me you were smoking Sour Diesel in New York in 1996. Tell me how much you were paying for it, what it felt like, and how it worked for you—anything you knew about it and any context. If you were smoking hash in the '70s, I want to know about it. I don’t only want to have tension between this generational divide of young twenty-somethings doing the bulk of this service industry in cannabis with the older generations who have a wealth of historical information we can borrow from and learn from. Cannabis’s past is partially documented, but also largely an oral history, so we have a tremendous amount to gain by passing these stories along before they are lost to time.”

The story of this plant continues, and as the fourth of the United States comes online to legalize cannabis consumption, myself and others are extremely grateful Oregon citizens voted to enable production and sharing of the finest cannabis known to humankind.

Whether you’re recreating or medicating, the best advice I can give is: Enjoy the ceremony.

Zoe Wilder
Zoe Wilder is a media relations professional and business consultant orbiting cannabis, tech, wellness, music, art, wine and spirits. For 17 years, Zoe has worked with hundreds of clients across a variety of industries to develop and execute inventive promotional content and campaigns that capture the attention of tastemakers and influencers from around the globe.
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