Sure, selling legal weed to happy stoners may sound like a cushy, carefree job. But in one of the weirder side effects of legalization, budtenders -- the clerks behind the counter at the country’s newest pot shops -- have wound up filling a tricky role that falls somewhere between bartender and therapist. In Oregon, where recreational weed stores opened two months ago, there’s a strain of cannabis for every personality, problem, and quirk -- making in-store conversations ripe for oversharing and pushing the $10-an-hour clerks into a foggy legal and ethical gray area.
Budtenders may have signed up to roll joints and weigh bud -- but they’re suddenly finding themselves privy to an entire population’s secret angst and psychological baggage. We interviewed nearly two dozen of them over the last several weeks. Our conclusion? These so-called "retail" workers aren’t getting paid enough.
"They unload on you"
Russell Goodwin, 27, RKO Dispensary: People start to treat you like doctors. I had a woman show me her tumor. I had a guy go into great detail about how it helped his sexual experience. I was like, "OK, glad it worked for ya -- can I interest you in a joint?" One really old guy told me he’s anorexic. He wanted the munchies. A lot of people talk at you because they need to rant to someone. It’s interesting to see how people open up over time -- then they unload on you.
Ben Adams, 27, Pure Green: We see an amazing range of everyone from TV personalities to government officials. Smoking weed is another hat they wear and now it’s finally OK. We call it, "Coming out of the basement," because they don’t have to sneak around anymore.
Belinda Kerr, 44, Top Hat Express: People come in looking to solve problems. I had a lady tell me, "I want to feel happy." I said, "Well, stay away from men!" Just kidding! I said it's hard for me to say because all types of weed make me happy. She ended up buying Agent Orange, which is really uplifting and motivating. But some people have more serious issues. One man told me he needs weed to save his relationship with his wife. He’s an alcoholic and spends too much time at the bar. He always feels terrible, dehydrated, and hungover. If he can switch to cannabis, he thinks an indica will keep him home more.
Jason Pott, 46, Cannabliss & Co: I get the sex one a lot. Couples come in, gay and straight, and they say, "This is what we plan to do tonight." I say go with the Blackberry Kush, it turns on the horniness and gives you an endorphin boost. It skyrockets you to a point of no return -- like when people say they see God during sex.
Adams: Customers are, like, "Be my new best friend." They machine-gun their problems at you. Sometimes it can be traumatizing. One guy told me he had rented a hotel room to kill himself. It was a long conversation and I had to tell him, like, "No, don’t do that. Call a psychologist, now." There’s only so much you can do in an eight-hour retail shift. It can be emotionally taxing. For some people, it’s the only thing keeping them going.
Andrew Parsons, 27, Little Amsterdam: I never knew people could talk so much.
Chris Backhous, 27, Cannabliss & Co: I had a guy tell me he grew weed in his house and the DEA raided it. People have no line. They just speak.
Dez Hair, 23, Rip City Remedies: We had a guy make out with our surveillance camera. I don't think he knew where he was. I grabbed the camera and said, "Um, you can't do that."
Jennifer Dalton, 30, Gras: We have a lot of people battling meth addiction in this area, trying to find an upper substitute so they can kick it. The Trinity [strain] gives them that feeling and it's cheap, $5 a gram. So they buy a gram every day in quarters.
Travis Turnsen, 38, manager/budtender, Pure Green: I had a mom in the shop with tears in her eyes, she was so happy. Her kid, who suffers from seizures, had been pumped full of pharmaceutical chemicals for years but nothing was helping. She was ecstatic that cannabis was working -- that something was finally working.
Kat Nichols, Green Oasis: You get a lot of background stories. They might be oversharing but I’m used to it. One woman told me she gained weight because of her divorce and was looking for an appetite-suppressing strain. I told her about Sugar Plum -- it’s the Skinny Girl of cannabis. The dispensary is like a counselor’s office. But it’s retail, so we have to get them out in a timely manner.
Michael Fagen, budtender/grower’s apprentice, Green Sky Collective: People are self-diagnosing and then coming to us. They really appreciate an ear. That’s where we come in. We are the listeners.
Tanisha White, 37, Green Stop: Not everybody can afford therapy. Other people just don’t want to say they go to therapy. But in here, we don’t judge.