What is a Budtender?

Woman shopping for cannabis

As a clinician, it’s important to understand the roles played in the cannabis industry and the ways in which this industry is different from the pharmacy system that we’re used to.  

The differences do affect the experience our patients have getting their medicine and, often, their outcomes.  So what is a budtender?  A budtender is a sales person who works in a legal cannabis dispensary. They help customers select cannabis products to purchase.  It is very important to understand their job and what they can and cannot do.

What is a budtender?

Budtenders play an important role in the cannabis industry, but are often put in the awkward position of being asked questions that they either should not or cannot answer.  While they are often knowledgeable about a wide range of cannabis products and can help medical cannabis patients find products based on the recommendation of the patient’s physician, neither the patient nor the clinician can or should rely on them for medical information.  A cannabis budtender should not advise on product types, dosing, frequency of use, safety information, nor the medical benefits expected.  

Cannabis dispensary sign

What do budtenders do?

Some of the duties of a recreational budtender include:

  • Greet customers and welcome them to the dispensary


  • Answer questions about cannabis products and their recreational effects


  • Help customers select products


  • Weigh and package products



Here are some specific things that budtenders may do differently for medical cannabis patients:

  • Provide specific products based on recommendations from a patient’s cannabinoid specialist.


  • Provide information about the patient's rights and protections under the law.


  • Refer the patient to other resources, such as doctors, therapists, or support groups.


Budtenders are the first point of contact at a dispensary.  They should make customers and patients feel welcome and comfortable, especially if it is a new experience.

Person purchasing cannabis

What don’t or shouldn’t budtenders do?

It is important to note that cannabis budtenders are not medical professionals. They cannot diagnose or treat medical conditions, and should never give medical advice, even when asked.  

Patients are likely to have specific questions about the different types of cannabis, the effects of different cannabinoids, and the best way to use cannabis to treat their specific medical condition.  In these situations, the patient should be referred to a cannabinoid specialist for proper treatment.  

Doctor Knows Best

If a budtender is asked a medical question, for example, “What do you have for back pain?” they should respond by providing a referral to a qualified cannabinoid clinician.  When a cannabinoid specialist recommends the medication, a budtender should fill it without alteration or adding their opinion.  

In the pharmacy system, which is a good model for what the dispensary system needs to emulate, if a pharmacist felt there were a problem with a prescription, they would contact the clinician to discuss.  

Conflict of Interest

Budtenders are also subject to a significant conflict of interest.  They are expected to sell as much product as possible, and to do that they may recommend products that are inappropriate for the patient.  After all, a budtender is a salesperson.

Cannabis in jars

Do budtenders need to be HIPAA compliant?

Absolutely!  Any organization, including dispensaries, that handles health information needs to be compliant with HIPAA.  This includes discussion of patient needs in the store, as well as any electronic systems like point-of-sale systems or online ordering functions.  

HIPAA can be breached through sharing names, birthdays, phone numbers, photos, and more.  It is critical that dispensaries and their employees comply with HIPAA and follow all guidelines to protect patient privacy.  Not only will this protect the dispensary from financial consequences and discrimination complaints, but it will also help to foster a trusting relationship between patient and budtender.


Education for budtenders

There are many education resources for budding budtenders, but most of these focus on compliance with regulation and tracking inventory.  The Association of Cannabinoid Specialists provides the only cannabis course online that focuses on specific information that budtenders need to know while taking care of patients.  Further, it explains how best to interact with, and foster a better relationship with, the patients’ cannabinoid specialist.

This budtender cannabis course online is available at: https://cannaspecialists.thinkific.com/courses/psa

Students learning in class

In a nutshell

Clinicians need to understand how the cannabis industry is different from the pharmacy system as this will affect our patients.  Physicians who are referring their patients for care should not expect the dispensary or budtender to provide medical treatment plans.  This is the role of the cannabinoid specialist, to whom the patient should be referred. 

Cannabinoid specialists, similarly, should not rely upon the budtender to guide their patients.  Patients must be provided with all the necessary information to properly purchase and use the medication by the treating clinician.  

To learn more about the limitations of what budtenders can and cannot do, watch this episode of Casual Conversations here.