Wednesday April 29, 2020

By Paul Barach


It’s easy to call warehouse and retail workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic heroes. After all, essential retail employees are putting their health at risk in order to keep goods and services available for everyone forced to shelter in place. Among these essential employees are the noble budtenders tasked to keep providing cannabis to consumers. Some of their customers desperately need a reliable supply of marijuana as medicine that treats conditions including chronic pain, mental health issues like PTSD, or auto-immune disorders. Other customers desperately need it to just stay chill and relatively sane in this crazy situation.  

While keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy during this time deserves your attention, it’s also worth considering how essential workers like budtenders are doing. How is the coronavirus pandemic impacting the budtenders at your local dispensary? What safety measures are being taken to protect their health and allow them to keep serving the public? How are the stores doing financially? What steps are owners, managers, and budtenders taking to help out their employees? How are the customers treating them? PotGuide has contacted budtenders and managers in multiple states to provide a snapshot of the industry as it adapts to this new pandemic.

Safety Measures Being Taken at Dispensaries

Danny, a cannabis industry veteran, has been working with his budtenders to adapt to regulations and rules that can change by the day. For example, his dispensary at first offered customers curbside pickup for their online orders that could be paid with cash or debit cards. A couple of days later the Colorado governor changed the rules and stated that curbside pickup would be cash only. After some complaints by influential cannabis industry figures, that order is now back to cash and debit for now.

Many dispensaries are doing the best they can to stay safe, but budtending is still risky. photo credit

Like other shops, Danny’s dispensary is keeping the social distancing guidelines inside the shop. One person in the store at a time, no smelling bud, no touching product until the purchase is complete, and there’s taped boundaries on the ground that help people maintain distance where they’re standing. Mary Mart in Tacoma as well as OZ in Seattle are following the CDC guidelines, providing masks and sanitizer to their staff as well as instructing their staff to wipe down their register stations regularly. 

Budtenders and Coronavirus

As for budtenders themselves, the reactions and feelings about working during this strange time have been mixed. Some left their shops, unwilling to risk their health in order to provide customers with cannabis. Others simply wanted a raise since working any position that puts one in contact with total strangers is now hazardous. Mostly, budtenders are soldiering through as well as anyone can be during this time. Each employee is different and there’s always a balance between wanting to work and financially having to work despite the risks during this time. Danny’s trying to take care of his budtenders as much as possible with more breaks, more samples, and free lunches. Other managers are trying to morally support their budtenders as much as they can. 

Of course, some companies are going above and beyond to help their budtenders. LivWell Executives in Colorado, for example, are foregoing their pay for the next 90 days in order to keep their budtenders on staff.

How are Dispensary Customers Impacted?

During this time, most budtenders have mentioned that the customers have been pretty understanding of all the new rules and regulations. There have also been reports of increased tips, especially during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is to be expected. Most people understand that we’re all in this together. Plus, in general, people who consume cannabis are pretty chill like that…but not all of them.

Tipping your budtender can go a long way during these times. photo credit

The ugly truth is that it’s a stressful time with an uncertain future. Some customers are letting it get to them. Budtenders are reporting mistreatment, frustrated customers, raised voices, curt exchanges, complaints about new regulations and longer waits, and other disrespect.

Needless to say, budtenders are front line employees like everyone else. They are putting their health and the health of their loved ones at risk in order to stay employed and serve the public. Just because they aren’t working directly in health care doesn’t mean that they aren’t playing an important role during this time. Please treat them as such and show them your respect at all times.

Marijuana Sales During COVID-19

Misha at Mary Mart in Tacoma reports that sales have been up and steady. Customers have been stocking up on cannabis, especially since stimulus checks have gone out.

Bob at OZ in Seattle reports panic buying that first week of the virus, which then dropped off before rebounding to semi-normal. He notes that fewer customers are coming through their doors but the size of those individual sales are making up for it. In contrast, other customers seem to have gone back to their old, pre-pandemic buying habits. Bob reports smaller sales picking back up. According to Danny, some customers are using their online orders to purchase one joint a day.

**As a side note: If you are going in to purchase cannabis, please consider purchasing what you’ll need for the week rather than just for the day if at all financially possible. This means less risk of exposure to coronavirus by limiting your interactions with other customers and budtenders, and less risk for everyone else if you’re one of the many asymptomatic carriers. Additionally, there’s usually less of a wait for larger orders since budtenders have to get to those first.**

So, overall, budtenders are soldiering through this pandemic as well as they can. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fears about their health, and a lot of frustration. There’s also a lot of banding together, working as a team, and doing their best at a job they love in a tough time.

The next time you stop by your dispensary, please try to be extra kind to your budtenders. Stay safe everybody.

Photo Credit: Fusion Medical Animation (license)

Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.

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