Posted on June 18 2018
With cannabis legalization making its way through the states, many people have brought up questions about dispensaries, grow operations, patients and the plant itself. There have been countless meetings and hearings pertaining to every little detail involving the cultivation, processing, selling and consuming of cannabis. However, one group of people in this vast industry that has not been the subject of much discussion are those actually selling the cannabis in the dispensaries.
Patient Specialist, Patient Coordinator, Budtender - how ever you refer to these folks, understand that they are the “front line” for cannabis sales. When you walk into a dispensary, the staff behind the counter are able to show, educate and recommend different products and strains to best fit your needs. These dispensary employees have a higher understanding of cannabinoids, terpenes and how they each can assist in symptom relief. These Budtenders bridge the gap between the less informed public and the wide range of medicinal benefits available to us from cannabis.
Stated another way, the Budtenders aren't just a sales clerk running the register like so many Wal*Mart employees, but instead are knowledgeable consultants. In fact the term "budtender" is a play on "bartender" because a good bartender knows all the various liquors, has a huge repertoire of mixed drinks to make, and holds conversations with the clientele and recommends new drinks to try based upon the customer's personal preferences. Similarly, a Budtender will consult with the patient to determine what they're looking for and what they're trying to achieve (eg. pain relief, or addressing insomnia, etc.), and recommend an appropriate product.
Tipping is one way some patients have chosen to show appreciation to their Budtender. But, what is the proper etiquette? How much are you supposed to tip? Do you even really have to?
It is hard to have definitive answers to these questions because cannabis is legal to varying degrees in different states, and residents have varying views about cannabis across the nation. Colorado, California and Washington have lead the way for cannabis reform and have had their dispensaries, both medical and recreational, open the longest.
Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board released the following statement pertaining to tipping:
“Tipping has not been an allowable practice in a retail marijuana licensed location. This position was adopted based on an interpretation of RCW 69.50.357, and indications that prices of products were being manipulated based on the size of a tip to avoid paying excise tax.
Effective immediately, customer tipping is now an allowable practice in licensed retail marijuana stores. However, tipping cannot be required or a condition of sale, nor can it be linked to the price of the product to avoid tax obligations.”
So far, they have been the only state to release an official statement on the topic. Although it was previously illegal, they will now allow tipping so long as it is not a mandated condition of purchase and does not affect pricing of the product itself. California and Colorado have not released official statements but some of their budtenders have spoken out about their personal views. One budtender from Denver spoke about the way the cannabis industry is regulated similarly to the alcohol industry, and if you tip a bartender based on drink recommendation and drink prep, you would assume it would be the same way for a budtender who handled your cannabis questions and concerns.
A split opinion came from a California budtender who has different views on tipping dependent upon whether you are on the medical or recreational side.
“If you are on the medical side, I believe you should always be tipped. Usually you continue researching and learning in order better serve your patients and understand their needs. You kind of need to keep up with new research and all of the latest information on the medical side. It's very much a hands-on, consultative process. On the recreational side, however, I think a tip is only expected when the budtender spends a long time with you going through different strains and answering all your questions. As with any retail service, if someone is giving you exceptional service, you should show them your appreciation with a tip.”
These states have set the blueprints for cannabis reform in other states that are currently allowing legal sales. Being a budtender in Maryland, I have been told that tipping is accepted but not made aware to our customers. My dispensary does not have a tip jar but I have seen a few that do. There is also a very cool trend emerging from some Massachusetts dispensaries that put out ‘Karma Jars’ -- instead of tipping the budtender, your tip goes in to the jar to help another patient who may be short to get their medicine, or to reward an employee for a specific act.
The collective verdict from most states and most dispensaries is that tipping is not at all required but it is accepted and very appreciated. Speaking from personal experience it is a reward to just be able to work in this industry and help my community, but when a customer goes out of their way to tell me they appreciate my help and knowledge, regardless if it is in kind words it a cash tip, I am more than gracious.