Brittany Urbanski is a budtender at OC3 cannabis dispensary in Santa Ana, California (Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register)

Working with weed: Meet a budtender

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Shortly after starting her shift at OC3 dispensary in Santa Ana, Brittany Urbanski greeted an unfamiliar customer across a glass counter displaying jars of marijuana flowers and packages of edibles.

After three back surgeries, 57-year-old Jack Orosz wasn’t new to medical marijuana. But the Newport Beach resident was new to OC3, a licensed shop that opened in September.

Urbanski helped Orosz settle on a strain of flowers she felt would best ease his back pain. Then the petite brunette brought out a prize wheel, which Orosz got to spin as a first-time customer. He won an edible, so she handed him his first cannabis-infused chocolate bar.

Urbanski, 26, has been a marijuana consumer for years. And she’s worked in the industry since she was 19, when she got her first job dispensing marijuana to customers as a budtender at an unlicensed shop that made its all-female staff wear leggings and little black tank-tops.

The Costa Mesa resident was working when police raided those shops. The officers weren’t too tough on the young budtenders, she said, questioning them before sending them on their way. But each time Urbanski would be out of a job and that day’s pay, since they were compensated in cash after every shift.

Since joining the staff at the licensed OC3 dispensary a month ago, she’s paying taxes “like a real citizen.” Her mom worries less. And when people ask what she does, instead of a vague reference to “sales,” she explain she helps patients at the dispensary.

“It’s a totally different atmosphere,” she said. “It’s nice to come to work knowing you’re completely safe.”

To get the gig, Urbanski had to pass a background check for drug charges, with a laminated card proving her clearance worn around her neck each day in case city inspectors stop by. She also needed to show a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana and customer service skills.

Her biggest sale so far has been $900, to a man who bought an ounce of high-quality flowers plus some other products. That can mean generous tips, which get pooled between budtenders.

But Urbanski’s favorite moments are helping customers who know nothing about marijuana.

A couple of weeks ago, an older husband and wife walked in. The woman was going through chemotherapy but was skeptical about trying cannabis. She was quiet as her husband asked questions for 20 minutes, searching for products to ease his wife’s pain.

The wife recently returned, this time alone. She raved about how a product Urbanski recommended – a tincture, or liquid extract placed under the tongue – improved her quality of life.

“We’re educating people,” said Urbanski, who hopes to be a shop manager one day. “That makes me feel good.”

By the numbers

$2 to $3: Hourly salary bump above minimum wage for starting budtenders at licensed vs. unlicensed shops

$900: Brittany Urbanski’s largest marijuana sale to a single customer

12: Total employees at OC3 dispensary, including managers, a receptionist and budtenders

7: Years Urbanski has worked in the marijuana industry

5 to 10: Average number of minutes Urbanski spends with customers at OC3

Contact the writer: 714-796-7963 or

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