If you’ve ever set foot in a cannabis dispensary, you’ve likely encountered staff members known as “budtenders.” Most of the time, they tend to be highly knowledgeable about different strains, products, and delivery methods — but their knowledge about medical and legal topics often leaves something to be desired. To fill this gap, a new class of experts is emerging: Cannabis consultants.
Cannabis patients’ need for better advice (especially concerning medical issues) was illustrated most recently by a July 2019 study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, in which two researchers posing as pregnant women called 400 Colorado dispensaries and asked for advice on treating their morning sickness. Much to their surprise, nearly 70 percent of dispensary employees advised them to use cannabis — and less than a third recommended the women speak to their doctors first. Nearly two-thirds of the employees based their recommendation on “personal opinion.”
In some states, such as Washington, all licensed dispensaries are legally required to have a state-certified cannabis consultant on staff to avoid such problems. Consultants are required to complete a 20-hour training course, register with the state, and, for some reason, become certified in CPR as well. While they’re not allowed to “provide medical advice” or “diagnose any conditions,” their training does give them a formal qualification for “[assisting] the patient with selecting products that may help with their [medical] condition,” “[answering] questions about the medical marijuana law,” and performing other tasks that may fall beyond the scope of a traditional budtender’s duties.
There’s an obvious appeal to have such knowledgeable staff on board, and some Washington dispensaries like Island Herb have taken things a step further by having all their employees complete the state’s cannabis consultant course. They’re the exception to the rule for the time being, but as cannabis consumers grow more sophisticated — and demanding — dispensaries with highly knowledgeable, well-trained staff (rather than amiable cannabis enthusiasts) could become the new normal.
Other states with legal cannabis have opted for a slightly different approach — instead of running their own cannabis consultant certification program, they may opt to certify private trainers who are then eligible to conduct certification programs of their own. In Colorado, for example, the state’s Responsible Vendor Program has been in place since 2015, with 13 different businesses currently approved to certify their “students” as cannabis consultants. The program has few set criteria, though all applicants must submit a copy of their proposed training curriculum and provide their business’ Certificate of Good Standing from the Colorado Secretary of State, along with a $850 fee.
There are also cannabis consultancies that operate without any kind of state authorization whatsoever. A notable example is Cansoom, a network of medical cannabis consultants founded by a nurse named Lolita Korneagay. Available only to licensed medical providers — like doctors, acupuncturists, dentists, or chiropractors — the course claims to prepare participants to “educate his/her community about how to safely and effectively use cannabis for medical and/or recreational use,” covering topics like “different strains of cannabis, safe cannabis dosages, and the various delivery methods for consumption.” While the course is accredited by the American Holistic Nurses Association, it comes with a steep price tag: Almost $1,000 for a single 8-hour session.
There’s certainly a need for more cannabis expertise, both among patients (a recent study found that the overwhelming majority of medical users have no idea what dosage they’re taking) and medical providers themselves (in Florida, for example, only 2,000 of the state’s 80,000 doctors are qualified to prescribe medical cannabis). Whether cannabis consultants are able to solve that problem remains to be seen — but the fact that both public and private entities are taking cannabis education more seriously is an encouraging sign.