They’re the influencers, the gatekeepers, the curators, and the tastemakers. They’re budtenders — and these are the best in the biz.
15 min read
Green Entrepreneur’s first annual portfolio of the most intriguing characters on the front lines of the cannabis industry is a montage of the struggles and achievements of a noticeably economically and socially diverse — and growing! — new segment of the American workforce.
Each of our candidates was nominated by an industry professional and required to supply an employer reference and two client recommendations. The stories we heard were both mind-blowing and heart-wrenching, like the one about the woman whose tumors resolved after she treated them with cannabis oil or the budtender who left midshift to find a blind woman who got lost walking to the dispensary. More than one medical marijuana client cried in conversation with us, giving thanks for their budtender with an appreciation usually reserved for nurses and doctors.
The world unfolding inside many of today’s dispensaries has more in common with a health clinic than a head shop, and the leading budtenders are playing an outsize role in reshaping cannabis’s future. They’ve become as knowledgable as anyone in the industry about everything from human anatomy to plant biology to physical illness to brain chemistry. Budtending shows all the signs of being a career poised to explode in the 21st century — a 2019 report coauthored by cannabis website Leafly describes the industry as “America’s hidden job boom” — and we expect the names in these pages to be the standard-bearers for years to come.
AKA The CannaChemist
Location: Essence Dispensary, Las Vegas
Origin story: Agustin was heading for a career as a pharmacist before finding the courage to risk financial security to become an expert in cannabis chemistry.
Badge of honor: He proved his mom wrong when she saw no career in weed.
He says: “I started as a pharmacy technician until I found out what pharmaceuticals do to you. Cannabis gives people a better quality of life.”
A customer says: “I’m a cancer patient. Brando makes decisions based on terpene profile and route of administration depending on how I’m looking to feel. When I come in, I wait for Brando.” — Jason Duran, Las Vegas
AKA The Ganja Geek
Location: Revolutionary Clinics, Cambridge, Mass.
Origin story: After his mom got a medical cannabis card, Casper started using medical cannabis to treat depression and anxiety, and delved into research.
Badge of honor: He is great at guiding first-time patients through the clinic’s big menu and developing strong relationships with regulars.
He says: “Experiment with strains and products so you can share your experience. Being able to pull from your own background will help you guide your customers.”
A customer says: “Joe not only learned my name but by my next visit knew which products would be best for me.” — Sabrina Gallo, Cambridge
AKA The Warrior for the Plant
Location: Apothecary 420, Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Origin story: His mother was a budtender at Harborside dispensary when Almadova got into the industry in his late teens. He started in packaging and at outdoor grows and expos before working his way up to budtender, and out of the crime and poverty dogging his family.
Badge of honor: He is a rare commodity: a second-generation budtender.
He says: “I’ve been pistol-whipped, been robbed, and started from scratch, and I’d still be doing this, legal or not.”
A customer says: “If budtenders got paid based on cannabis knowledge, Alex would be a millionaire.” — Brittany Woodford, North Hollywood
AKA The Lifesaver
Location: Sweet Flower, Studio City, Calif.
Origin story: Gibbs got his start as a trimmer 10 years ago at the age of 19 and won an award for best indica in the 2018 Michigan High Times Cup.
Badge of honor: He is known for helping terminally ill patients. By his count, his work has impacted more than 6,000 people so far.
He says: “My goal is to change people’s lives. I’ve imagined that since I was a kid. And I really am doing it. I really am changing the world.”
A customer says: “This man saved my life with his knowledge, kindness, and desire to teach and take care of us. We veterans need this medicine.” — Joey Spillers, Studio City
AKA The Energizer Bunny
Location: Curaleaf, Miami
Origin story: Barker worked on political campaigns until medical marijuana became legal in Florida.
Badge of honor: Whether she’s creating guides and quizzes for staff, educating patients, or networking, Barker is a natural activist.
She says: “I’ve had terrible insomnia since I was a kid, and medical marijuana turned it around.”
A customer says: “I was living with constant pain. Krizia blew my expectations out of the water. A 1:1 oil during the day and distillate at night have changed my life. Now I can focus on areas of my life I accepted were over.” — Francesca A., Miramar
AKA The Weed Fairy
Location: The Green Easy,
West Hollywood, Calif.
Origin story: Blanche left a job as a bridal stylist to tend bud.
Badge of honor: As of last fall, she is also a flower host at America’s first cannabis lounge.
She says: “We see couples for date night. We see parents with adult children. Everyone I work with is ecstatic to be part of history.”
A customer says: “When my father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, doctors offered opioids, fentanyl, morphine, oxycontin. Bianca found a regimen that helped him eat, eased his pain, let him sleep and occasionally laugh. Budtenders are as important as doctors.” — Caitlin Burdi, Hollywood
AKA The Alternative Seeker
Location: STIIIZY DTLA, Los Angeles
Origin story: Davalos’ mother was paralyzed and in pain after being shot in 2009. Davalos went looking for another way to help her medicate.
Badge of honor: She found it.
She says: “My mother was taking opioids, and I wanted to find an alternative. When I began learning about cannabis, I became a believer and decided to work in this industry.”
A customer says: “My husband and I had been purchasing counterfeit [vape] pods. Now we are purchasing safer products, and it’s all because of Valerie. She takes the time to help us find the right product.” — Abigail Del Rio Nario, Carson City, Nev.
AKA The Edibles King
Location: R. Greenleaf, Albuquerque
Origin story: Francisco had a medical marijuana card, so when he got tired of construction work, cannabis seemed like a logical next step.
Badge of honor: He gives new meaning to the phrase “food is medicine” by using cannabis in hot chocolate and topping it with whipped cream and a cherry, or slathering infused honey on barbecued ribs or baked beans.
He says: “Nothing better than working with the best plant on the planet.”
A customer says: “He provided me with an ointment that helped reduce the pain in my leg when the medicine my physician prescribed didn’t help at all. It has allowed me to stay employed.” — JD, Albuquerque
AKA The Neighborhood Weed Lady
Location: Lightshade 6th Avenue, Denver
Origin story: Drew did her time at the front desk before becoming a budtender.
Badge of honor: She has had the highest monthly sales average at her Lightshade store for two years.
She says: “I’m known for making relationships easily with new customers; tourists are actually sometimes my favorite. I love introducing people to cannabis products for the first time.”
A customer says: “Even when there are long lines out the door, Mallory takes time to ensure every customer’s needs are met, they have a more-than-pleasant experience, and they leave with what they came for.” — Quint Coles, Denver
AKA The Dedicated Medicator
Location: Urban Farmacy, Portland, Oreg.
Origin story: A former manager invited Bridgforth to budtend in New Mexico. That was six years ago. She’s still going.
Badge of honor: She has what she says is her dream job, supervising 10 staff members in the task of helping thousands of patients a year.
She says: “There is nothing more important in this world than each other. It is an incredible honor to be trusted by so many people to help them.”
A customer says: “Randa seems to have more accuracy in recommending what might help with my ailments than my primary care provider does with prescriptions.” — Randy Brown, Las Cruces, N.M.
AKA The First Mover
Location: Lowell Cafe, West Hollywood, Calif.
Origin story: Jernagin wanted a career that made her wake up excited about her day. Budtending promised that.
Badge of honor: She was an early hire at America’s first cannabis cafe.
She says: “One customer came in with fibromyalgia and doesn’t need her medication anymore. Another’s autistic son wasn’t eating but is now, and talking. I’ve worked more serious jobs, but this one is the most rewarding.”
A customer says: “Breanna is kind, patient, and articulate in the way she presents the plant to people from all ages and backgrounds.” — Libby Dolan, Los Angeles
AKA The Family Man
Location: Home Grown Apothecary, Portland, Oreg.
Origin story: Ferry was a musician when he was scouted by Home Grown.
Badge of honor: He curates strict organic standards (the Apothecary is all organic), trains staff, and is a cannabis expert on NPR.
He says: “A lot of people in customer service hear the words people are using but don’t listen enough to hear what a customer is trying to say.”
A customer says: “Richard becomes family to everyone he takes care of. I’m amazed by how often I’ve gone to the Apothecary to find him in some deep and important conversation with a customer.” — Casey Newsom, Portland
AKA The Bud Theorist
Location: Lady Jane’s Naturals, Tulsa
Origin story: Lunsford founded Lady Jane’s Naturals while she was an environmental specialist for the Tulsa Health Department.
Badge of honor: Her bachelor of science degree in biology was a good investment.
She says: “Budtenders in the medical cannabis field are scientists. We examine a problem and use an educated guess to form a hypothesis. When I see a repeat patient who responded well to my recommendations, the joy is incomparable.”
A customer says: “I’ve been disabled most of my adult life with chronic back pain and have had several surgeries. I’ve tried other dispensaries, but despite the hour’s drive, I always go back to Taylor.” — Dustin Leighton, Muldrow
AKA The Green Witch
Location: 99 High Tide, Malibu, Calif.
Origin story: Lurty is a trained plant medicine practitioner, and after her father and stepfather died of cancer, she dedicated herself to helping cancer victims improve their quality of life with herbs and cannabis.
Badge of honor: She has worked on movies and TV shows including Wonder Woman and moonlighted as a stuntwoman.
She says: “The cancer complex is all about lining somebody’s pocket. I wanted to be on the front lines offering another solution.”
A customer says: “Megan makes her own medicine in service to the nervous system and regenerative sleep [combining cannabis and other herbs]. Some of the blends include locally harvested Malibu herbs.” — Bridget Donahue, Malibu
AKA The Best-Read Budtender
Location: Harborside, Oakland, Calif.
Origin story: Manaktala spent six years learning about cannabis as a trimmer before landing a job at Harborside.
Badge of honor: She’s Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo’s first-choice budtender. Her manager calls her “the most well-read, approachable, and fervent proponent of cannabis wellness we’ve seen in 13 years.”
She says: “The best part of the job is deconstructing the biochemistry behind cannabis and the body. Investigating genetics in terms of effects, terpene analysis…I find these things fascinating!”
A customer says: “Asha has a vast knowledge of cannabis—from flower, seeds, and clones to concentrates and edibles—and can speak with authority about any aspect.” — Jaene Leonard, San Francisco Bay Area
AKA The Passionate Budtender
Location: Terrasana, Columbus, Ohio
Origin story: Morris worked day and night opening the first dispensary in Springfield, Ohio.
Badge of honor: Recently, a blind woman called the dispensary, lost. Morris walked down the road until he found her and walked her back half a mile to the dispensary.
He says: “I don’t do this for notoriety or money. I do this because I care about others, and I know cannabis heals.“
A customer says: “My son’s life changed immensely since he started using medical cannabis. He went from
35 seizures a day to none. Andrew helped my son and helped my family find peace.” — Jaala Miskimens Pierce, Adams Mills
AKA The Visionary Stoner
Location: Mission Dispensaries, Chicago
Origin story: Scott was a medical marijuana patient for spinal stenosis and scoliosis for four years before being hired by his go-to dispensary. (He was their favorite patient.)
Badge of honor: He never gave up in the face of illness and poverty.
He says: “We serve patients, we entertain them, we’re like their moms, their dads, counselors. I want a patient to go home and feel like a star.”
A customer says: “I have nerve damage, back pain, and migraines, and Brandon developed a protocol using everything from creams to edibles. It took about a month to find what works.” — Latrice Taylor, Chicago
AKA Budtender to the Canna-curious
Location: SPARC, San Francisco
Origin story: Ransaw was in healthcare when a friend said she’d make a good budtender. That’s all it took.
Badge of honor: Her empathy with new customers has her dreaming of developing an online platform where the canna-curious can learn to roll a joint or stack a bong.
She says: “What I love about my work is the weird creative community inside the dispensary.”
A customer says: “I was turned off by the wrong products, but whether it’s a vape to chill out to or a CBD product to help my girlfriend with cramps, Breyanna always has the perfect recommendation.” — Scotty Liberatore, San Francisco
AKA The Dab Queen
Location: ShowGrow, Las Vegas
Origin story υ Skuban’s first job in the industry was packaging gummies and other edibles. She was baking at age 5 (not that kind of baking!), so edibles were a natural fit.
Badge of honor: She was a Miss Marijuana contestant in 2019.
She says: “I had a gentleman come in in pain looking for the wrong kind of terpenes. I spent 15 minutes with him finding the right strains, and now he comes in all the time and waits for me.”
A customer says: “I like a stimulating buzz for the day and a downer at night, and Ashley can pinpoint what I’m looking for. Her edibles knowledge and dab recommendations are top-shelf.” — Shantel Burgess, Eau Claire, Wisc.
AKA That Guy from Bad Ink
Location: Inyo Fine Cannabis Dispensary, Las Vegas
Origin story: On A&E’s Bad Ink, Rob Ruckus cured his first cancer patient with cannabis oil. That and success in healing his herniated disks, his mom’s thyroid, and his friend’s lupus got him studying the plant.
Badge of honor: He is likely Vegas’s most famous budtender. Google him.
He says: “Budtenders should study every disease and the side effects, then find the cannabinoid/terpene profile that fits.”
A customer says: “I was told I didn’t have long to live. Rob recommended RSO [Rick Simpson Oil]. I did, and the tumors shrunk.” — Kendall Tyler, Las Vegas
AKA The SAG-AFTRA Budtender
Location: Genius Cannabis Boutique, West Hollywood, Calif.
Origin story: Todd hails from a family of nurses, and her heart is in helping people heal. In the 10 years since her first budtending job, she watched the industry go from maligned to mainstream.
Badge of honor: On weekends and evenings, she is a professional actress and model.
She says: “I risked everything to be here — career, relationships, safety. This is my dream job.”
A customer says: “I sustained serious injuries in a car accident — a broken C1 vertebra and broken hand — and I was able to opt out of the cocktail of opiates because of Jami.” — Robby Pinnamaneni, Venice Beach
Barbara Van Hoosen
AKA The CannaMom
Location: Revolutionary Clinics, Somerville, Mass.
Origin story: Van Hoosen had been a medical marijuana patient for a year when she started to think she could help others with chronic pain relief without opiates.
Badge of honor: She may be the world’s only budtender with a master’s degree in social psychology.
She says: “I want to break the stigma of using MMJ for moms. You can use cannabis while still being a wonderful partner, mother, and all-around human being.”
A customer says: “Barb was the smiling face at my first-ever dispensary. Her product knowledge is spot-on, and she helps me crush my anxiety.” — Dan B., Tewksbury
AKA The Budtender in the Pharmacy
Location: PDI Medical, Buffalo Grove, Ill.
Origin story: Crohn’s disease caused Vasavda to become a medical marijuana patient in 2017, and the relief he found fired a passion for the plant’s therapeutic uses.
Badge of honor: He works with pharmacists to design protocols for patients.
He says: “PDI Medical was the first pharmacy-based dispensary in the U.S. Here, licensed, cannabis-educated pharmacists assess the patients’ needs first. Then I look at the individual’s comfort with cannabis, what they want to treat, and what methods they can use.”
A customer says: “I was honestly scared to death walking in the dispensary. I had a lot of questions. Ankit had the answers and great compassion for my situation and my fears.” — Emily Fox, Lindenhurst
AKA The Weed Educator
Location: Oregrown, Bend, Oreg.
Origin story: Weston came to Bend to ski Mt. Bachelor and washed dishes until he got his first job with Oregrown as a delivery person.
Badge of honor: Working with Parkinson’s, glaucoma, and cancer patients is just another day at the office.
He says: “I care about the future of the industry and how we present ourselves during this end-of-prohibition period. As a budtender, you guide a diverse group of consumers as they enter this amazing industry.”
A customer says: “We brought our parents in for help with pain, and Hobey was able to change their preconceptions. They now live on the Dragon Rub.” — Sheila Shelton, Sunriver
AKA Wiedman? Um, no alias needed.
Location: Mile High Dispensary, Littleton, Colo.
Origin story: Wiedman moved to Colorado because cannabis was legal there. He got a job in a dispensary and was determined to help change the stigma around cannabis.
Badge of honor: Within two years, he was an industry influencer with an Instagram following of 35,000.
He says: “Helping hundreds of people a week with countless life-threatening issues is what it’s all about.”
A customer says: “I get occasional anxiety. When I mentioned it to Justin, he turned around, pointed to the wall of products, and told me not to lose hope. After experimenting with patches and CBD edibles, I found a means to combat my stress.” — Carmina O’Sullivan-Scimemi, Denver