A few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in on the BTA Budtender Training: a 4-day Onboarding Program at The House of Cannabis in Toronto. Our Head of Education prepared me to participate as a co-facilitator—offering the opportunity to witness how our collected learnings over the years are being put into practice to best support and initiate both new and experienced Budtenders into our industry. The training included staff from the Spadina- Kensington Market location and newly opened King Street location. The experience was an absolute pleasure - it gifted me the chance to see the education we have worked hard to build come to life and how we can continue to grow as an industry. Having had time to reflect on these learnings, I want to share them in the hopes that they can help new stores set up for success.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!
Stepping into the first day of training - like many of the Budtenders we were training, I was meeting everyone for the first time! New workplaces can be intimidating, especially in a new industry, and like many of our retail partners, The House of Cannabis was initiating Budtenders into the industry for the first time. For a few of the staff, the first day of training was the first day they had even stepped into the store and met their co-workers. Perfect! This meant we could help establish a cohesive team dynamic from day one!
As with all our 4-day training courses, Day 1 is focused on identifying who your team members are: what are their strengths? Where are they looking to grow? What type of guidance and management style works best for them? While these points seem obvious, many believe that these answers will reveal themselves over time. The reality is that, unless identified from the beginning with sufficient time and energy dedicated to understanding your team and coming up with best practices together; they tend to act as kindling to a fire that you’d rather not have to put out in a few months.
One way The House of Cannabis excelled is in their choice of Management - Rebecca Shiwsankar, who made sure to pay ample attention when her staff were sharing some of their hesitations and fears that they’re stepping into the workplace with and even initiating a thoughtful, informed discussion on the George Flloyd trial proceedings. The right manager knows to invest time in getting to know their team and ensuring they are flexible in how to respond to various learning and communication styles. Day 1 of our training provided Rebecca and the other amazing leaders on the team with a kickstart in building meaningful relationships in the team.
Start from Zero
Perhaps controversial, but I will go ahead and say it—let’s just assume no one has any cannabis education. This isn’t to say that there aren’t people extremely knowledgeable about cannabis, and maybe you have a few on your team. However, it happens too often that much of the information available around cannabis is either outdated or misleading; even well-intentioned people can go on to spread misinformed facts around the plant. This makes perfect sense—criminalization meant that we were denied access from researching our plant in ways that we can now. The result is that a lot of cannabis education tends to come from unverified and unchecked sources, leading to misinterpreted information like the “Indica vs. Sativa” dichotomy for example.
That’s why our training starts from zero - let’s assume no one knows anything and we can learn it all together. We start from the very basics like what even makes a cannabis plant to the various chemicals and hormones certain cannabinoids interact with and affect. By starting with a tabula rasa, we can build up cannabis knowledge from a sound and intentional framework.
Investing in guided and thoughtfully developed training means you’re equipping your Budtenders with real confidence—they can answer customer questions from an informed place instead of throwing guesses and hoping they land. Investing in team training also demonstrates that you care about the value of experiences you are providing your customers. While some may think that Budtending is just making a few sales recommendations, a large portion of the job requires thoughtful listening, a deep understanding of plant science, product differentiation, and consultative sales.
At The House of Cannabis, they did not assume their Budtenders would just happen to know the answers—even if they come from the legacy space or are long time consumers themselves, there is a big difference between consuming cannabis and selling it while the differences between legacy Budtenders and recreational are very distinct, from product offerings to compliance requirements and everywhere in between. The training consists of long-time users and Budtenders that didn’t have much personal experience, all coming together to learn.
My biggest takeaway from the 4-day Training is how multifaceted and complex a Budtender’s role truly is. Budtenders are not just retail sales employees, they are educators, researchers, tastemakers and friends for customers and the industry at large. During our training, we focused on team building, compliance, plant science, product differentiation, consultative sales and much more, ensuring that our Budtenders were ready to face all the joys and challenges coming their way.