In June, Illinois lawmakers passed a bill that allows the legal commercial sale of marijuana throughout the state, paving the way for the states' 55 medical marijuana dispensaries to flip to recreational sales—and for additional dispensaries to open under the relaxed law.
With the opening of a new marketplace comes a challenge, says James Yagielo, CEO of cannabis recruiting company HempStaff: training new budtenders quickly and effectively.
“Things are very chaotic when a new business starts up—even more so in highly regulated markets like cannabis,” Yagielo explains. “Owners and managers are quickly overwhelmed by the demands coming from the state and city, as well as inspectors and investors—and, unfortunately, training usually gets put on the backburner for the first few months.” What’s more, as Yagielo points out, it’s likely that entry-level employees in a brand-new market have very little dispensary knowledge—making it more time-consuming to train them than it would be to train budtenders who have worked in states where marijuana has been legal.
And while dispensaries that are shifting from medical to adult-use—like Illinois—will likely face fewer challenges when it comes to training budtenders, there are still issues they will need to contend with, Yagielo says, such as dealing with a large influx of new customers.
So, how can dispensaries train their budtenders in a new market? Here are six top tips.
1. First things first: Make sure new budtenders understand how to talk to patients without violating HIPAA regulations. As Yagielo explains, “in medical marijuana states, you need to know what they need cannabis for—but you can’t violate their medical privacy either.” To stay within HIPAA law, it’s essential to instruct budtenders “to ask several questions about what relief the patient is looking for rather than discuss anything about illness they have,” he explains. “There are ways to get the information you need in a friendly conversation that will assist the dispensary agent [budtender] in figuring out why that patient is there.”
2. Teach budtenders about cannabinoids. According to Yagielo, knowledge of cannabinoids is the single most important thing budtenders in a new market need to know about. “They are really the active ingredients in cannabis,” he explains, “and each combination works best for a different ailment. [Budtenders] need to know the top dozen cannabinoids and their medicinal properties.” Yagielo recommends teaching budtenders not only what those most common cannabinoids are, but “how common they are, and what medicinal properties they hold.”
3. And teach them about terpenes, too. “After cannabinoids,” Yagielo says, “[terpenes are] the second active ingredient in cannabis, and, once again, different combinations work best for different ailments—and when you combine with uses for the cannabinoid profile you get even more uses.” And because terpenes have their own medicinal properties, they may counter—or enhance—the effects of cannabinoids. That’s why Yagielo recommends new budtenders learn the most common terpenes, too, and how they will interact with cannabinoids.
4. Go over every single product in the store. “The owner or manager needs to go over all the products in the store with the employees and explain what the most common usage and dosage recommendation is—if their employees do not previously have this training,” says Yagielo. And owners and managers should encourage new budtenders to continue studying products in their down time. “Part of a dispensary agent's job, when they are slow, is to study the products in the store: Read the labels, research them online, and ask previous customers their thoughts about them,” Yagielo says. “This, in time, creates a very well-rounded dispensary agent who is well versed in all the products.” And, Yagielo adds, “after a while, [budtenders] only need to do this [kind of studying] with the new products.”
5. Make sure budtenders understand the dispensary’s security protocols. “Each dispensary has its own security—an alarm code, an [under] duress code, even an audible word alarm,” says Yagielo. And because “each dispensary’s security is completely different, even experienced employees usually need this training when starting a new job in a dispensary.”
6. In states that are shifting from medical to adult-use, prepare budtenders for additional customers. “The recreational market can increase a medical dispensary’s daily patient count 10-fold,” Yagielo warns. “However, many [dispensaries] do not hire 10 times as many employees, at least at first. So, the biggest challenge is for the dispensary to find the right number of employees—overall and per shift—and figuring out how to train all employees consistently on the products they have in store.” After all, Yagielo points out, “You don't want one person recommending a different dosage than the person they saw previously.”