What It’s Like to Be a ‘Budtender’

What It’s Like to Be a ‘Budtender’

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Credit…Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

Good morning.

(Here’s the sign-up, if you don’t already get California Today by email.)

It’s Friday, and if you’re in California, that may mean unwinding with a glass of wine, or, increasingly, a little green.

I’m talking about weed. And yes, almost exactly three years after Californians voted to legalize marijuana, it still feels slightly edgy to talk about cannabis consumption as openly as drinking in the pages of The New York Times.

Recently, that’s what I did in a piece for The Times’s Styles desk, about West Hollywood’s first weed consumption lounge, a restaurant named Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe, and the state of California’s weed economy.

[Read the full story here.]

Lowell Farms is the first of what will be 16 consumption lounges in the city, which leaders say they hope will become a kind of cannabis destination — and will reap the economic benefits — while its bigger and slower moving counterparts, like Los Angeles, continue to grapple with how to fairly distribute coveted pot shop licenses.

Investors and entrepreneurs are jostling for pieces of what experts have said is a vast and growing legal cannabis market.

The chief executive of Lowell Herb Co., the fast-growing business behind the restaurant, told me that Lowell Farms is just one way of building a recognizable brand as the company seeks to scoop up loyal consumers in what is now a wide open field.

While there is no weed in Lowell Farms’s food, the menu was designed to pair nicely with cannabis.

And to help new diners figure out what goes with what, the restaurant has roving “flower hosts,” or weed sommeliers of sorts.

The idea of applying a sommelier’s nuanced palate to cannabis isn’t new. But interest is growing along with legal marijuana markets.

While reporting on Lowell Farms, I talked with Bianca Blanche, one of the restaurant’s first flower hosts and a writer for the brand’s website, about how she approaches the job.

Ms. Blanche said she moved to California from New York, where she’d worked in a bridal store, about four years ago.

“What sparked that change was I had developed my own relationship with cannabis,” she told me. “Nothing sounded better than moving out to Los Angeles and selling weed.”

She got a job at a medical dispensary, where Ms. Blanche said she got a hands-on education in how different products and strains worked.

[Read more about what California can expect five years after legalization.]

She also learned that “budtenders” like her typically earn between $10 and $15 an hour and aren’t often tipped, despite the fact that the job entails a broad range of customer interactions.

Like bartenders, budtenders are on their feet for long periods of time and connect with customers on a more personal level than many other retail workers. But they also often end up playing the role of a therapist or nurse.

“You have to be able to recommend a product to potentially solve whatever health issue they’re experiencing,” Ms. Blanche said. “I know things about my patients that I don’t think even their closest friends or families do.”

When she started preparing to work as a flower host at Lowell Farms, she said, she studied up on terpenes, the organic compounds that produce the distinct aromas of various marijuana strains.

[Read more about efforts to automatically clear marijuana convictions.]

Some have piney or lemony terpenes, which she said can be paired similarly to a white wine, with fish or chicken.

Others are a little more “earthy and herby,” she said, like rosemary or cloves. Those compliment richer dishes, like steaks.

Mostly, she said it’s important to understand your individual experience level and tolerance.

“Honest and open dialogue is definitely No. 1,” Ms. Blanche said.


We often link to sites that limit access for nonsubscribers. We appreciate your reading Times coverage, but we also encourage you to support local news if you can.

Also, here’s what to know about Pacific Gas & Electric’s role in causing the blaze. [The New York Times]

  • This week, investigators confirmed that PG&E’s equipment sparked two fires in Lafayette late last month. [The East Bay Times]

  • If you missed it, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that the government must provide mental health services to migrant parents and children who were psychologically harmed as a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy. “This is truly groundbreaking,” one expert said. [The New York Times]

  • Here’s a podcast looking back at the fight, 25 years ago, over Proposition 187, an anti-immigrant law that was widely protested and eventually killed. The battle changed California forever. [The Los Angeles Times]

Also, here’s a digital exhibition from the California State Archives tracing the initiative’s rise and fall.

  • Transcripts show that, so far, Representative Devin Nunes, a close ally of President Trump, has been mostly quiet at closed impeachment hearings. [The Fresno Bee]

  • The board of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct as it prepares a legal defense against shareholder lawsuits over its handling of the matters. [The New York Times]

  • Bella Lewitzky was a fervently Californian choreographer. Her 1970 piece, “Kinaesonata,” which hasn’t been seen for more than 20 years, has been revived for L.A. Dances, a festival at L.A. Dance Project. [The New York Times]

  • An art heist! Solved seven years later! (Sort of.) In any case, much of the art in question, more than 1,000 prints by the British artist and mystic Benjamin Creme, has been returned to its owner in Los Angeles. [The New York Times]

  • On Thursday, Gene Baxter — a man you may have known as “Bean” if you woke up to KROQ-FM at almost any point in the last three decades — signed off for the last time. His co-host on “The Kevin and Bean Show,” Kevin Ryder, will continue on. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • There is a plan to have a computer-generated likeness of James Dean star in a new movie. The criticism from Hollywood and beyond came swiftly. [The New York Times]


If legal substances are not your style, please consider kicking off your weekend with two very important animal tales from the week.

The first comes to us from Ventura County, where firefighters rescued a great horned owl, who was “hopping around in the ashes” of a eucalyptus grove during the Maria fire. The owl, later named “Ram,” after the football team, was taken to the nonprofit Camarillo Wildlife Rehabilitation, which the group said saved its life, according to The Ventura County Star.

The second is a story about Sweets, a miniature horse who was spotted riding BART through the Transbay Tube on Tuesday. Her fellow BART riders were left murmuring, “Who is she?” Their only recourse: A hashtag, #BARTpony.

KQED investigated, and as it turns out, Sweets was just hard at work like the rest of us. She lives in the Solano County hills and is training to be a service animal.


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.


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