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The Bud-Tender in All Of Their Glory: Pawns in the Spread of Corporate Cannabis

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

The modern Bud-Tender, boy what an idea. A concept that was a noble and often glorified role that unfortunately, came to a head under capitalism. From loved and adored to hated and despised, the legalized and regulated rendition of everyone's favorite bud dealer, re-incarnated as not only an official position and duty in a functioning society, but an "essential" one! I could go off in a lot of directions on this one and intend to cover them all, but many aspects overlap and they all have significantly more meaning after I explain the "medical hoax."


Now before you freak out, let me just say that cannabis is absolutely, without a doubt, medically applicable in a wide range of areas and has an acute effectiveness on several severe illnesses. Yet, until paper laws came into question, the idea of cannabis as a treatment existed, but the phraseology common to popular use certainly wasn't limiting the scope of cannabis applications to a "prescribed medication". No one described a really good high as an "effective dose."

Medical Rhetoric

Medical terminologies weren't in public use until long after cannabis Prohibition had begun and medical applications for severe illnesses I mentioned before, required civil-disobedience. Parents fought for the right to treat their children's illnesses, after all other treatments failed. Cancer and Aids patients fought for the medicinal right to ease their suffering during Chemotherapy. The common lingo evolved from getting "high" and getting "stoned" to "medicating" and "effective relief." Smokers were now called "patients," as we skirted the lines of legality through carefully selected terms. The cannabis world picked up on these notions, and quickly adopted the new expressions.

Side Note: Remember the Head-Shops?

Head-shops for years skirted regulations by using different terminologies, and by preventing anyone from mentioning cannabis in the store. I saw people kicked out of head-shops for calling a bong a bong more than once. This was a whole game of avoiding the laws by never calling a spade a spade and using whatever term, like "water-pipe" was currently deemed acceptable. This same line of thought was adopted by early medical dispensaries, as every cannabis smoker on earth suddenly became a "patient."


Piggybacking on the severe cases that warranted direct, consistent, and ongoing cannabis treatment, the fight to legalize medically was born. Fighting as a united cause, the medically dependent along with everyone who enjoyed cannabis used its medical applications as a means to access inside of the law. It was a strategy and an argument to fight for, and a stepping stone toward where we are headed. Somewhere along the line however, we forgot that medical cannabis was largely a ploy aside from rare cases, and a minimum standard of access, rather than anything ideal. Medical cannabis doesn't allow for recreational use, but recreational use surely allows direct medical application.

Cannabis Pharmacies

The other side of the coin required places of business, usually called "dispensaries," to uphold the same medical image and vocabulary. Dispensaries were modeled after pharmacies. As California's early medical industry began, all eyes were watching to get a glimpse of these new pharmacy-modeled cannabis stores.


The Bud-Tender is Born

And then of course came the "Bud-Tender," who's name ironically enough, from the start was modeled, and more appropriately may I add, after a bar-tender. That is about as far across the spectrum as it gets, contrasting a trained medical professional and pharmacist with a server and bar-tender. Two images were cast, with each one helping to blur the lines of the other.

The Immaculate All-Knowing Bud-Tender

Expectations were enormous, and people flocked to dispensaries with an endless list of questions. Bud-tender's were immediately expected to be all knowledgeable, people of the bud. The customers expected answers to their questions, questions that often reflected pharmaceutical influence. Doctor's approved medicinal cannabis for everything and anything under the sun, so long as $100 to $150 dollars cash was included. Bud-Tenders were expected to play doctor, nurse, and pharmacist, with doctors writing prescriptions for the substance only. Both the style of product, variety of cannabis, and the dosage rested entirely in the hands of the immaculate, all-knowing budtender.

"How much do I take, how long does it last, what does this mean, what does that mean?"

Unrealistic Expectations

Bud-tenders from the start, were not only tasked with presenting cannabis to the cannabis naive, but doing it in a way that resembled the medical and pharmaceutical industries. The whole thing was a sham for the majority of "patients," but not because cannabis didn't help these people and make their lives better, but because of the ridiculous process required to access the plant and the new lingo of "patientdom." Both "patients" and budtenders danced around prior terminology, as they attempted to accurately explain the problem and assess dosage, genetic, and product variety. I'd say this was obviously asking entirely too much.

Employed to Fail

Put in an immensely overwhelming situation, the earliest bud-tenders quickly climbed the ranks as the backward establishments of medical cannabis stores unfolded. Customers, or sorry, "patients'' who need experienced recommendations are often handled by the least knowledgeable members of the store. Experienced bud-tenders have had enough of Prohibition's ignorance, and now sit in the manager's office, while the newest hires are sent to handle customers and reproduce corporate cannabis' understanding of products and the plant.

As low man on the totem-pole, bud tenders cannot afford to try the majority of products they sell. They rely on retail tactics like the sativa-indica assumptions. Pretty funny, how cannabis was at its least scientific moment, while masquerading as an all-new medical industry. Pretty dangerous, to apply the sales tactics of retail consumerism to a product that is supposed to be medicine. Guessing and predicting the effects of a product is negligent and not included in the responsibilities of a knowledgeable Bud Tender.


With such a long list of medical and spiritual benefits, the plant should be easily accessible to everyone, everywhere. The plant's all-around benefits should never be limited in access to prescription only, but something to be shared akin to its polar opposite: alcohol. I have always felt that the medicinal application of cannabis was a severely limiting idea, bound to confine the plant to strict pharmaceutical regulations. Thankfully, the plant is bigger than any man-made pharmaceutical industry and has luckily avoided it's own misdirected fate.

Fake-Pharmacy to 711

Finally reaching a partial state of legalization, and no longer required to play pharmacy and pharmacist (ending the Medical Hoax), the expectations of bud-tenders dramatically decreased. The recreational laws and settings naturally allowed for much less consumer oversight on the part of budtenders.

For a decade plus now, dispensaries have hired new industry employees to educate the uniformed. The blind have been leading the blind for so long that the industry is its own problem. It fell in line with yesterday's thinking, pushing stores full of distillate based products using the sativa and indica assumption, in a new boutique setting. The sooner budtenders stop predicting and assuming effects, the sooner everyone will understand the subjective, personal, and individualized effects of the plant. It will do most consumers a lot of good to forget everything you think you know about cannabis and start over with a simple explanation that is available starting here. Be skeptical of sales tactics and inform your own decisions, (especially for medicinal needs) but keep in mind that most of the information and science is yet to be studied or officially confirmed.

Ideal Bud-Tending:


The role I envision for most stores is your friendly cashier that can let you know of new products, sales, and promos, but otherwise leaves the experience and effects of a product out of the conversation. Price, product, brand, and other information directly labeled on packaging should be about as in depth as you want your budtender to go. For those seeking answers, one-on-one consultations should wait in separate lines and have private conversations, rather than being forced to air whatever ails them to the entire store. Expect much less of bud-tenders and understand the dynamics of retail sales.


The retail world selling a consumable product, could learn a lot from the hospitality industry. In fact it fits right in between food and drink. Here is my other ideal, where budtenders should be equally informed about all the flavors, genetics, prices, and products, with a basic knowledge of who grew it and where it was made. One or two bartenders handle the needs of hundreds of patrons, in busy, fast-paced environments for alcohol that a truly distinguished and well-informed Bud-Tender could easily reproduce. A dispensary devoted to dabbing and concentrates, with an updated expectation from consumers, would recommend products based on terpene profile, or flavor. Flavor and taste, along with farm recognition or backstory, would serve as a highly informative sale.

Expanding the Scope of Application

Breaking from this retail narrative that assumes the effects of a plant or product that affects everyone differently, a much wider scope of acceptance and understanding is needed. Not only is cannabis a medicine, it's also a vitamin, it's food, exercise, a meditation, a worship, a social activity, and more than anything else, cannabis is a gift and a reward. You may use cannabis for "relief" or to "medicate," but you can also use it to get high. You can use cannabis to get high and receive relief at the same time. The forced medicinal terminology can come to a close for most consumers and an honest desire to consume for enjoyment is the kind of honest discourse that will help to normalize the plant. While our diets affect how we feel and can be detrimental or a solution to disease, I look at cannabis in the same light. It's a prescription style of medicine for a few serious illnesses, but for all else, it's as much of a medicine as your diet, that is a small but important part.

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In Closing

Despite any evidence to the contrary, this idea of an all-knowing pharmacist-budtender never existed. Nor did the overtly specific remedy for each patient's illness. With the small amount of credible information and the sudden overwhelming demand, everyone just bullshitted into action. The retail world adopted the principles of medical cannabis and ran with ill-fitting rhetoric, while a corporate sales line of thinking permeated the core of the industry-culture. Do your homework, research brands, and products by checking dispensary menus online before setting foot in retail stores. Be your own best budtender and don't rely on a "salesman" or "saleswoman" to recommend and sell you cannabis products. With such diverse applications, it's ridiculous to rely on cashiers to inform your decision. Try thinking of the dispensary more like a liquor store or a 711, since that is the goal for cannabis accessibility: To have cannabis everywhere alcohol is sold.


Now the best thing retail cannabis stores can do is to make shopping easier for the consumer. You aren't a pharmacy, so please hang a menu. Being able to easily peruse the menu, will eliminate the need for conversation at the counter in busy and painfully slow moving stores. Expect far less from budtenders, and realize they're simply cashiers.



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