The value of a budtender:
I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about the role of budtenders. Especially the value they hold as in-the-know individuals. They’re the gatekeepers of the good good if you will. At the same time, as an ex-budtender myself and someone who’s actively looking to build a career for myself in the industry, I feel bad for budtenders.
Imagine you work in a store with 200+ products, the products change regularly. Meanwhile how you are able to talk about those products is abstract. Between the laws on how budtenders are able to talk about cannabis and the fact that it’s a subjective experience makes it much harder to sell.
As much there are uniform effects of a strain (or even general genetics), the cannabis experience is still a personal experience. The human body reacts to cannabis in a variety of ways. No two people experience it the same way. Budtenders need to be able to talk about smell, taste, effects, the grower and make it feel personalized without knowing exactly how the cannabis is going to affect the person they’re talking to. It can be a challenge.
Jenn Larry, the Chief Commercial Officer for MTL Cannabis recently compared budtenders to record store clerks. She describes them as passionate, in the know people who make you want to dialogue about your shared passion and experiences. Budtenders have to be incredibly knowledgeable, but also agile customer service people in an experience-based industry. And one that’s heavily regulated at that.
For those of you who've never been to a record store before or after the vinyl craze, watch this youtube clip and you'll get the comparison:
Imagine Jack Black as a budtender...
Excise tax, Provincial Wholesalers, Income tax, and HST: Why Canadian weed could be cheaper for budtenders!
It’s interesting that the intention of ending prohibition was to compete with the illegal market, but was designed in a way that seemed to hurt everybody.
The excise tax for Cannabis is currently a dollar per gram to the Provincial Government and another dollar to the Federal Government.
Excise tax breakdown for cannabis: Why Canadian weed could still be cheaper in general
So, before HST (an additional 13% of retail) or even the retail price for cannabis is considered, you’re expected to pay:
• $2 for a gram
• $7 for 3.5 grams (an eighth. Respond if you disagree!)
• $10 for 5 grams
• $14 for 7 grams (a quarter)
• $20 for 10 grams
• $28 for 14 grams (a half oz)
• $30 for 15 grams
• $56 for 28 grams (an oz)
In a scenario where an ounce is $100 retail, the margins for dispensaries are razor thin. Before you consider the wholesaler’s margins, the LP’s margin or even the dispensary’s margin, more than half of potential is gone.
Between excise tax, the licensed producer’s need to profit, the provincial wholesaler’s need to profit, where does that leave the dispensary? At the point where the cannabis meets the customer face-to-face. The most important part, yet the best representatives of the industry are left with crumbs.
Margin breakdown: 3.5 grams at $7 retail
This is a breakdown of where your money goes when you buy 3.5 grams of cannabis. It’s a great breakdown from StandforCraft.com. They are working on arguing a new variable, percentage system for cannabis tax because it hurts the craft market and it artificially inflates prices. It doesn’t acknowledge how else it effects the rest of the industry.
In that scenario the retailer is making $2.54 for the 3.5 grams, I suspect that’s when the provincial retailer is making the sale and not a dispensary. Dispensaries have to be able to compete with provincial retailers by undercutting them. More often than not, the dispensaries are cheaper on products than The OCS. Seriously, shop around and show your local budtenders some love.
Dispensaries: How replaceable you are directly relates to your pay.
Ontarians have been vocal that there are too many dispensaries. Unfortunately, they’re right. In September 2021, Ontario “celebrated” a total of 1000 dispensaries. Celebrated isn’t the right word though. Before I get into this, I’m not saying that Canadians don’t have the right to make a living in the Cannabis space, I am saying that it ultimately hurts budtenders when there’s too many places for them to work.
There’s 23,000 active Cannsell certificates in Ontario. There’s roughly 23,000 budtenders working in the province. This also means there are countless more people seeking out those roles. There is no shortage of budtenders right now.
Why is 1,000 dispensaries a bad thing?
Unfortunately, when there are too many or too few people hiring and there are lots of people looking for the same roles, it puts too much power in the employing party. Based on the limited educational or experience requirements for the role and the sheer volume of people looking, it’s easier for dispensary owners to justify paying their budtenders next to nothing and it sucks.
Many dispensaries take to giving their budtenders between 15-17/hr and scheduling 20-hour weeks. Not all budtenders are looking to make a career out of budtending. Some use the job as cash flow. No two people are the same. But it’s got to be hard to make a living, or even make ends meet on $17/hr. Especially when you’re expecting to have knowledge on an ever-changing roster of sku’s and the tax alone for some of those products is close to or more than you make in an hour.
Unfortunately, due to a number of circumstances, budtenders have come to be looked at like baristas, Walmart staff, or gas station attendants. By no means am I speaking negatively about either group, life’s hard and you gotta do what you gotta do. I am saying that too many opportunities of the same kind diminish the role and make it easier to pay those types of roles less money. More than anything else those kinds of roles become too easy to fill.
Where does it leave budtenders?
I once had a budtender I worked with tell me that he craved constant variety. He felt it was his duty to try a little bit of everything and that his favorite part was being able to share his experiences. Many budtenders share that attitude and it’s great but expensive.
I see lots of social media budtenders bringing home new products after a shift and they’re excited to try the bud and share the experience. Meanwhile, I sometimes cringe wondering how much they spent on all of it. Hats off to them for trying products for us but at the same time, I hope they’re getting a healthy discount.
Meanwhile, they’re almost expected to a degree to have the knowledge of this experience. Budtenders trying the product can only benefit the dispensary, the Licensed Producers’ products they try and endorse, and the customers they pass the knowledge on to. Yet, it’s expensive for them to obtain these experiences. And no, not all dispensaries are created equal when it comes to the treatment of their staff.
My message to LP’s:
Shower your budtenders with love! …and maybe some free weed. They may not work for you but they sell your products! They’re a pivotal touchpoint for your products and drive your business. You should be doing as much as possible so they can be as passionate and knowledgeable about your products as possible.
A little tip: They’re all online! Build a community online with them through their channels! Put the care into interacting with them that you do into building your digital presence... or hire me to do it.
My message to local smokers!
Leave a tip! They’re underpaid and underappreciated so they can help you smoke better weed!
And when they try to talk to you about THC numbers, terpenes, and the entourage effect listen!
My message to everyone!
If this blog post expanded your mind like a psychedelic,
Or made you feel a little shaggadelic,
Or you budtend and want to tell me about your experience!
Share this post or email me directly and let me know!
About the Creator
I'm a copywriter. My first thought was to create a library of cannabis information but I've decided to expand my writing.
I used to write for an agency that specialized in merchandising for influencers. Check it out.