SEPTEMBER 22, 2023

Behind the Counter: Navigating Roles and Responsibilities in Cannabis Dispensaries

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Long gone are the days of underground meet ups and swaps, having a look out on watch, just in case. Now, the cannabis market is growing at an eye-watering rate, more rapidly – and legally – than ever before. Today’s scene of buying and selling herb has quickly transformed into a legitimate business market, with customers to serve, workers to manage and strict compliance to follow. Business owners involved in the industry are now at a unique crossroads of making sure they offer excellent customer service while sticking to some intricate rules and regulations. Read on as we chat about the three non-negotiable must-hire roles needed for any cannabis dispensary to succeed. 

A Dispensary What?


A cannabis dispensary is essentially a store where adults (usually over the age of 21) are able to buy cannabis and cannabis-related products. These can include joints, concentrate, edibles, topicals, and more. Each location has different products and brands. In the Netherlands, these are called “coffeeshops”, but in the US these locations exist as an outlet for both recreational and medical cannabis. Although some trepidation is to be expected, dispensaries are, in fact, legal, as long as they are properly licensed by the state in which they operate.

Budtenders: Your Cannabis Guides 

Considering it hasn’t always been legal, buying cannabis for the first time can be quite an intimidating experience. Imagine walking into a dispensary, uncertain about what’s on offer, not knowing what you want or even what you’d like. A friendly, smiling budtender steps in, asking about your preferences and suggests a product that's perfect for your needs. Essentially, these dispensary employees serve as a bridge between customers and the many cannabis-based products on offer. 

Budtenders are the most consumer-facing role on a dispensary team, making it super important to hire someone skilled in managing customer interactions. As the face of a cannabis dispensary, a budtender’s expertise and friendly demeanor can make or break a customer’s experience. People who come from retail or service backgrounds tend to do well in this role. 

Responsibilities of a Budtender 

  • Product knowledge: Budtenders must have a deep understanding of the products available, including strains, CBD vs. THC content, and consumption methods. This knowledge allows them to recommend the right products based on customer preferences and needs. 

  • Customer engagement: Building a rapport with customers is vital. Budtenders need to be approachable, patient, and attentive to customers' questions and concerns. 

  • Compliance: Budtenders need to make sure that customers meet the legal requirements and verify their identification. 

  • Retail: Budtenders need to maintain the appearance of the shop floor, including merchandising, restocking inventory, and keeping the sales area neat and tidy. They are also responsible for handling cash payments and entering transactions into the dispensary POS system. 

Managers: Orchestrating Dispensary Operations


A successful dispensary manager understands the importance of building a solid and cohesive team. This includes hiring the right employees, providing them with the training and resources they need to excel, and creating a positive and productive work environment. In a well-run dispensary, a manager ensures that products are well-stocked, employees are well-trained, and the store operates smoothly. They are the ones who maintain the dispensary's reputation for quality and service. In essence, dispensary managers are the backbone of the operation, responsible for overseeing day-to-day activities, inventory management, and ensuring compliance with local regulations. 

Responsibilities of a Manager 

  • Compliance: Managers must stay updated on the ever-evolving regulations surrounding cannabis. Partnering with the dispensary compliance specialist to ensure compliance in inventory management, cash management, reporting, and regulatory protocols. 

  • Staff management: This includes hiring, training, and scheduling employees. Effective leadership ensures that the dispensary runs efficiently. 

  • Inventory control: Managers must keep track of inventory levels, ensuring that popular products are always in stock and that there's minimal waste. 

  • Facility management: This includes scheduling any necessary repairs and ensuring cleanliness. 

Compliance Specialists: Navigating Legal Waters 

Compliance is crucial for cannabis dispensaries. Given the complex legal landscape of the products, compliance specialists ensure that the dispensary complies with all relevant laws and regulations. They need to review all aspects of the business, from product labeling to security protocols, to ensure that the dispensary remains within the bounds of the law. They’re also responsible for staying on top of any changes to applicable laws and adjusting dispensary policies and procedures accordingly. Their work is essential in ensuring that the business remains in operation. 

Responsibilities of a Compliance Specialist 

  • Regulatory knowledge: Staying up to date with the latest regulations and licensing requirements is their bread and butter. 

  • Documentation: Maintaining meticulous records to demonstrate adherence to all legal requirements. They need to get the right certifications and licenses, maintain proper financial records, and submit inventory and seed-to-sale tracking information to the necessary authorities. 

  • Inspections: Preparing the dispensary for regulatory inspections and ensuring that any issues are addressed promptly. 

  • Training: Ensuring that all staff members are up to date on proper compliance. 

The Essence of it All: Customer Service 

While the above-mentioned job titles may be the three crucial pillars of a cannabis dispensary, there is one aspect at the apex: great customer service. In this industry, I believe this to be the cornerstone of creating a positive and educational cannabis dispensary experience. 

By elevating your dispensary's customer service, you're not only selling a product; you're offering a unique enjoyable experience. Make it one-of-a-kind, for what could well be your customer’s first exposure to the scene. Excellent customer service extends beyond closing a deal. Aspire to involve these several components:  

  1. Patience: Take the time to listen and truly figure out what your customer wants or needs. 

  2. Product knowledge: Know your dispensary’s products, how they typically perform, the difference between delivery options (vape, edible, oil, tincture, etc.), and provide suggestions for what might work best for the specific customer. 

  3. Stay positive and use positive language: Maintain a cheery persona despite the number of questions asked and lack of product knowledge the customer might display. 

  4. Keep calm under pressure: Excellent customer service providers “keep their cool” in stressful situations. 

  5. Articulate: Be able to share a compelling or insightful narrative about the dispensary’s products. 

  6. Work ethic: Don’t take shortcuts and do what it takes to ensure your customers leave satisfied with their experience. 

  7. Closing the sale: End the conversation with the intent to make a sale based on ensuring the customer is happy with their purchase. 

The Bottom Line 

Working in a cannabis dispensary is much more than just making sales. It's about being a trusted guide, a meticulous organizer, and a legal expert, all while delivering top-notch customer service. These roles harmonize to create an industry that is not just about profits but also about educating, informing, and making a positive impact on individuals' lives.


Become a budtender today! Click here for access to our comprehensive e-learning program, designed to help Canadian budtenders gain a next-level holistic understanding of the cannabis plant, consumption methods, physiological responses, and production practices. 

Read more about our individual courses on offer here: 

Monique Demes

Copywriter at CanMar

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