How Should Budtenders Answer Specific Medical Questions?

How Should Budtenders Answer Specific Medical Questions?

In this guest column, Jordan Wellington looks at how dispensaries should offer guidance to medical patients.

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September 6, 2018

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Cannabis Dispensary. To subscribe, click here.

Working as a budtender is not all that different than working at any conventional retail establishment. Whether it is a small clothing boutique or a giant grocer, a liquor store or a medical cannabis dispensary, employees are expected to possess product knowledge, provide quality customer service and follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) for everything from conducting transactions to complying with public health and safety standards. That said, there are unique aspects of working at a licensed cannabis retailer, and they can cause trouble for employees, businesses and the entire industry.

Budtenders not only face background checks and mandatory licensing in some states, but they are asked medical and legal questions by consumers that their counterparts in other industries would rarely, if ever, encounter. For example, customers at a liquor store generally don't ask the clerk how much beer they should drink to feel the desired effects, or whether wine is helpful for someone with high blood pressure. It is difficult to imagine someone asking where he or she should go to drink their recently purchased whiskey.

It is understandable why cannabis customers have so many questions. Marijuana has been illegal for most of their lives (and still is at a federal level), and while more information is available now than only a few years ago, many people are still unfamiliar with it. When most people think of cannabis, they envision dry flowers, either in a joint or pipe, or possibly baked into a batch of brownies. They are not familiar with the panoply of strains, extracts, salves, edibles and other infused products available today. Not surprisingly, consumers who want guidance from a cannabis expert often look to dispensary employees for advice.

Don’t Cross the Line

While most budtenders are typically knowledgeable and aim to be helpful, they are not doctors and they are not attorneys. A fine line exists between providing advice on the appropriate cannabis product and making medical claims.

A study released in May 2018 by Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) highlighted the sensitivities surrounding these types of communications between dispensary employees and the public. Researchers conducted a telephone survey in which two people posing as pregnant women called hundreds of adult-use and medical marijuana dispensaries in the Rocky Mountain State to ask whether they would recommend cannabis as a treatment for morning sickness. Roughly 69 percent of surveyed dispensary employees recommended cannabis, and nearly 36 percent told the callers it was safe to consume while pregnant. Less than one-third advised the callers to consult their health-care providers.

The results raised significant concerns among state health officials and regulators, and they highlighted an important question: Should budtenders be providing this type of medical advice?

Put simply: No, they should not. Whether it is a woman inquiring about cannabis for morning sickness or a man who is curious if it will negatively interact with his heart medication, these are questions that need to be directed to health care professionals.

Shortly after the study was published, the Colorado MED issued two strong warnings to industry participants, advising them that the prohibitions on making health or benefit claims in advertisements and on product labels also extends to budtender statements:

“Licensees (including owners, managers, and employees of medical and retail marijuana businesses) making health or benefit claims to consumers or otherwise communicating information that is prohibited from being advertised or displayed on labels affixed to Containers of Retail and Medical Marijuana, Concentrate and Product may be viewed by the Division as an attempt to evade marketing, advertising, and/or labeling requirements, resulting in recommendation for administrative action.”

The dispensary workers involved in the study were well intentioned, and it is possible that some are well versed on the medical research surrounding marijuana and pregnancy. Alas, they are not health care professionals, so they must be careful not to cross the line into providing medical advice.

To read the full article in Cannabis Dispensary's August 2018 issue, click here.

Top graphic: © z_wei | iStockphoto