Canadian budtenders in training: A peek inside cannabis customer service courses

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Vancouver-based company preparing dispensary staff to sell within the new legal framework.

Deep inside Simon Fraser University's halls, in the Morris J Wosk Centre for dialogue, a lecture was taking place.

There were students filling the seats, an eclectic crowd of young and old from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. At the front, an instructor was teaching using a PowerPoint presentation.

Standard university fare

Except in front of the teacher, lining a table, were several marijuana products, from dry bud, to balms, to concentrated tinctures. 

It was a two-day recreational retail course for the so-called "budtenders" of the future.

"You know how in a restaurant, in a good restaurant, the server knows every little detail about every little dish that's on the menu," said instructor Adolfo Gonzalez to the class, referring to what it takes to be a cannabis customer service expert.

"Be a professional."

Adolfo Gonzalez leads a two-day workshop on how to properly sell marijuana products.

Gonzalez works in Vancouver's marijuana industry, one that is shifting from a legal grey zone to a federally approved and regulated sector. 

However, with the change, budtenders must also adjust how they sell a product.

"First of all, when we are talking about products we can't talk about therapeutic benefits, we can't talk about [anything] medical," said Gonzalez

Currently, Vancouver dispensaries can only be licensed if they could prove that they're providing a medical product. But under the soon-to-be advertising rules for dispensing marijuana, retailers are prohibited from talking about the therapeutic benefits of marijuana.

Over the two-day course, students were introduced to the rules and regulations of operating within the new law, while learning the skills needed to responsibly sell cannabis products.

Gonzalez has been working in the industry for the past 17 years and with business partner Julie Domingo, he opened CannaReps, after noticing a lack of qualified candidates to work in their dispensaries.

The team noticed specific challenges when looking for staff, including finding skilled workers with both cannabis knowledge and customer service training, and finding staff with consistent and accurate information about the product.

"With these three challenges, we saw that this was an opportunity for us to come together, work on a project and train budtenders," said Domingo.  

Recreational use of marijuana will become legal across Canada on Oct. 17.

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