A budtender's job is increasingly taxing, but they also need to remember to put the patient first. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Dear Budtender: Remember to take your time and care for patients

I remember feeling like I was in a sting. Like she was a plant in an exposé about the secret evils of dope shops, and I had flubbed an answer that’d be all over the news. I double checked her paperwork to make sure it hadn’t been forged, convinced we’d all be going to prison for letting someone in the doors if it had. It was a paranoid time in the industry. I’m glad you don’t have to deal with as much of that.

When they came back the next day with another laundry list of follow-up questions, I was relieved — which sounds odd, I know. Then I was given a lesson. Or, more aptly, schooled. And for the next hour, we had an earnest conversation about patient care, cancer and integrating medical marijuana into both. And again, they left without buying anything. I wouldn’t have bought a dime bag off a doofus like me, either.

Two days later her son came back, and every time after that we worked together on her new treatment plan. When strains that were working ran low, I’d set some aside. I’d take notes on which ones were less effective, but it was always just the two of us from then out. I didn’t see her again until it was her picture attached to a story online about her passing. As I said before, I wasn’t prepared for that. Hopefully you will be.

She was a great person in her neighborhood, which turned out to be my neighborhood. I was such a typically self-absorbed 26-year-old that I had no clue. I had been a huge proponent of medical marijuana, but on a macro level that never included me as a person in a medical marijuana center. It’s a weird disconnect. Now, I was that kid working at a pot shop who she remembered probably meant well but had no idea how to address something as dire as managing her last days on earth. I owed her more than that, and I’m not often filled with regret.

I don’t ever want you to be, either.

Which strain is right for you? Spend some time in our strain review archives to find out

Engage with people when they come in, and ask them what they use marijuana for. You’d be surprised how starting the conversation will allow them to open up to you. Too many people feel like their illness is a burden they don’t want to lay on you. If they’re just coming in to get high, you’ll know right away. But don’t ever presuppose in either case.

Be a resource for customers and co-workers. Know how long you flush and cure for. Know every strain inside and out. Know their conditions, because you can make great recommendations if you know which symptoms they’re trying to alleviate. Someone dealing with cancer might be looking to build an appetite, deal with nausea when they can eat or deal with persistent pain. Saying “Oh, you have cancer? Try X,” isn’t good enough.

Learn how to cope with the gravity of dealing with debilitating illnesses. One of the best skills you can have is the ability to empathize and not let it take a toll on you. I keep seeing budtenders with this air of cool indifference, the holier-than-thou attitude that drives me insane. Be gracious and warm with no exceptions, because there’s a good chance they’re going through some incredibly difficult times. If you’re so awesome, go be a sommelier and quit wasting my time.

Most of all, approach what you’re doing with honesty. You can’t fake caring for people. You can only pull the wool over so many eyes. Patients are more informed now than ever before. It may not always be perfect, but it can be authentic.

Your brother in bud,