Shopping For Legal Cannabis

Meet Five Budtenders Who Are Passionate About Educating Customers

The regulated cannabis industry is still pretty new, so it’s hard for the average consumer, or even an experienced cannabis connoisseur, to understand which of the many products on the market are right for them. That’s where budtenders come in. The best budtenders are way more than just sales associates — they’re like a tour guide crossed with your favourite teacher, full of detailed knowledge and useful recommendations.

Korinna Richer

Korinna Richer

Spiritleaf Robertson, Ottawa, Ont.

Korinna Richer’s passion for cannabis was ignited when she saw how much medical cannabis comforted both her sister, who is a cancer patient, and her best friend, who has immune disorders. Spiritleaf Robertson (there are multiple Spiritleaf recreational cannabis locations across Canada) opened in July 2020, and Richer says the journey has been a joyful whirlwind of constant adaptation. “I tell myself we’re making history day by day just by being in the recreational cannabis industry at this moment,” she says, “and I think that’s kind of beautiful.”

Spiritleaf Robertson likes to go big on customer education and community outreach through workshops, open-mike nights and live entertainment. And then there was the time Richer built a 10-foot VW bus display for Spiritleaf’s Spirit Bus campaign. All locations across the country did their own versions of a customer education party and included presentations from Licensed Producers, but, well, Robertson was the only location with an actual bus. “I went a bit extreme,” Richer laughs. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that next year.”

What’s the best thing about your job?
“A lot of the guests at our store are from my parents’ generation, and being able to bring old [consumers] back and show them how far cannabis has come has been amazing. I’ve also loved educating my parents, who have gone from, ‘You’re basically a legal drug dealer’ to ‘You’re a cannabis concierge’ — what an upgrade! Now you see my dad running around with all his cannabis swag everywhere. I live for it.”

Do you have a memorable customer story?
“There was this group of women in their 70s who came in after their knitting and reading group — I couldn’t make that up — and they told me they wanted me to show them ‘how the young kids are doing it these days.’ I walked them through every single product. A week later, one of them returned with five more of her girlfriends and said, ‘Korinna, I want you to do that whole education process for all of my friends.’ That was super great. You don’t get that a lot in retail.”


Chris Herman

Chris Herman

Mīhī Cannabis, Burlington, Ont.

Chris Herman — or “Big Chris” (he’s six-foot-five), as he’s known to his regular customers and friends — has always been a cannabis advocate. His wife has been a long-time medical consumer to ease her multiple sclerosis symptoms. He’s also worked as a professional chef, which means he really knows how to make a mean cannabis-infused butter. And his infused chicken shawarma? Next. Level. (Hot tip: You can watch his how-to videos on the Mīhī website.) Herman is a regular contributor to the store’s blog, which is used to educate customers about cannabis in general and also provide how-tos on a variety of DIYs. Mīhī opened in September 2020 (there’s also a location in Stoney Creek, Ont.), and Herman has been there every step of the way.

What’s the best thing about your job?
“I’ve always had a passion for [cannabis], and I figured this was another venue where I could do what I love most, which is helping people. I love being able to engage customers in conversations about cannabis. For so many years it was a taboo topic, and now I can go into work and speak about it openly and freely. That’s the thing I truly enjoy.”


Preeya Chauhan

Preeya Chauhan

Pufftastic Cannabis Co., Scarborough, Ont.

Preeya Chauhan is a registered chiropractor, but these days her interest in wellness is more about snapping shatter than cracking backs. She’s the owner of Pufftastic Cannabis Co. in Scarborough North in Toronto. The small-but-mighty store carries over 700 products and serves a diverse group of customers. “It’s everyone from blue collar to white collar; new immigrants to our own hometown Scarborough peeps,” says Chauhan. Her “mom-and-puff” shop opened in August 2020, and it’s definitely a family affair — her brother Ravi is her right-hand man, and members of her extended family often help out too.

The siblings and their staff help customers navigate the hefty product offerings with detailed menus and colour-coded labels on every item. Each label outlines everything from the strain to whether edibles are sugar- or gelatin-free.

What’s the best thing about your job?
“All the customers we’ve made friends with and gotten to know. We celebrate with them, we share in their griefs — that’s the most rewarding part. We’re trying to be a pillar in the community, get rid of the stigma around cannabis and elevate our locals. We grew up around here; these are our people.”

Do you have any memorable customer stories?
“I had one customer who had had a bad experience with legacy-market cannabis that was laced. She wanted to smoke again but was nervous. We were able to assure her that legal cannabis is regulated, tested and sealed, and will never be tampered with or have other substances added to it. I suggested a CBD strain with low THC to start her off, and she’s still a loyal member of the Pufftastic family today.”


Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson

UnPlug Cannabis, Orléans, on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation

It turns out that having a biology degree is handy when it comes to understanding this popular plant. Alex Johnson certainly puts his to good use as a budtender at one of the three UnPlug Cannabis locations in the Ottawa area. Johnson is proud of the informative product displays in the store, which include an easily understandable intoxication potency pie chart and simple categories — Unwind, Uplift, Fusion and Terpeneless — based on terpene profiles. The stores’ Book a Budtender service, which allows customers to schedule a private session over Zoom to learn about cannabis, is also super popular.

Why did you want to work in cannabis?
“My educational background is biology and chemistry, so getting to know more about cannabis as this above-ground new industry really interests me. I love learning more about plant biology and how cannabis works.”

What’s been your biggest challenge when it comes to educating your customers?
“Something all budtenders are faced with is the craze for high-THC cannabis. Even though THC is important, it’s not the entire story. I had a customer who only ever bought high THC, and he was frustrated that one product didn’t give him the effects he wanted compared to others. I was able to explain how it’s not only THC that matters but also how terpenes and other cannabinoids interact with it, along with his own personal body chemistry. That started an ongoing conversation, and he ended up trying one of our CBD-THC fusion products for the first time. He came back and told me he was super impressed with it.”


Jaime Macleod

SunFish Cannabis, Lakefield, Ont.

Jaime Macleod is a bit newer to the budtender game than some of the veterans on this list, but she says her time at SunFish Cannabis, which opened at 4:20 on 4/20 of 2021, has already been a lovely ride. Macleod felt cannabis helped her sleep better, so in the summer of 2021 she jumped at the chance to work at the bustling store, even though it was the extra-busy cottage season.

SunFish serves the town of Lakefield, as well as many nearby communities, including Stony Lake, Douro-Dummer, Warsaw and Peterborough. Macleod is a fan of the in-store displays that list the exact percentages of cannabinoids in each batch and the big posters on the wall that describe the individual terpenes, their flavour profiles and what strains they’re typically associated with. The store also runs educational workshops and cooking with cannabis classes.

What’s been your biggest challenge when it comes to educating your customers?
“The biggest challenge I find while educating customers is the stigmatization of cannabis products. Although it’s been legal now for three years, when it comes to the older generation that grew up with prohibition, there remains a definite hesitation. Shifting our education to focus on the normalization of consumption and destigmatizing cannabis use in all forms is something that needs to be talked about more. The new reality of Canadian cannabis legalization should be taught not only to the school-age population (like they do with the DARE program) but also to adults. There should be more Health Canada cannabis education resources readily available. It doesn’t need to be such a taboo subject to learn or talk about anymore.”

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