From Budtender To National Sales Manager
"Cannabis is a business, but it’s also a culture, and when we root ourselves in the community, we will all grow."
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A point I have made on more than one occasion is that there will be many successful cannabis businesses built by former budtenders.
Keeping your pulse on what's happening in the cannabis industry is a challenge for every brand & budtenders are afforded the opportunity to understand trends ever before they appear on spreadsheets.
Berner is a great example of this — he started off budtending, and by virtue of this experience he gained exposure to certain consumer needs that weren’t being met, and with this, he built Cookies.
With this, there are a number of former & current budtenders in my network whom I know will have an incredible amount of success in this industry in the years to come, and one such individual is Emily Riehl.
Emily started in the cannabis industry in 2018 working as a budtender, and in the short amount of time since — Emily has climbed the ranks of the cannabis industry moving from budtender to National Sales Manager for Zenabis.
Emily Riehl is a former budtender for New Leaf Cannabis, and is currently the National Sales Manager for Greentone who are based in Montréal, Canada.
What was your motivation to join the cannabis industry as a budtender back in 2018?
In September of 2018, I was managing low-income housing projects.
It was a rewarding job, but I saw lots of things that left me feeling anxious or sad. I remember driving to work and hearing an advertisement for a dispensary and thinking to myself, what’s more positive than cannabis consumers?
I was already using cannabis for my PTSD and thought that this was an opportunity to jump in at the ground level and work my way up, but also help people discover the relief that I had.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned during your time working as a budtender?
I had a friend recently say, “consumers don’t want education because we ripped their culture from them.”
As a budtender we were constantly reminding customers that they don’t need high THC, they don’t need Indica/Sativa verbiage, they don’t need to know any of the medical effects, they just need to “trust us”.
Contrary to popular belief, prior to legalization consumers weren’t out on the street purchasing in a shadowed alley, rather they were purchasing cannabis from their friend — someone they built trust with us, gave us the more "dank" bag than the other, and even asked about our weekend.
Now they come to buy and they are berated with “that's not true, you're wrong.” We marketed ourselves to a consumer base that had not been previously loyal to cannabis culture. Instead of focusing on the illegal consumer space, we tried to rebrand cannabis for “the modern consumer”, which is rising, but still a small portion of the current cannabis base.
As a community, we wanted to be taken seriously straight away — so we discounted the past, alienated the legacy market/consumer, and were told to lead with education. It’s not inviting for experienced consumers to be told that their beliefs and habits are wrong. There is a baseline of trust between budtender and consumer — and that’s what the industry needs to focus on. We’re too impatient.
We’re pioneers of legal cannabis — those at the beginning of the movement are aware that they’re fighting and advocating now so that future generations can implement real change. We all want consumers to be as educated as possible, we all want to move this industry forward so let's focus on building trust first.
What needs to change for the Canadian cannabis industry to become the best version of itself?
I would start with the budtender verbiage restrictions here in Canada when it comes to explaining the effects of cannabis.
Standing at the counter with a senior asking if CBD oil could help them and having to repeat, “please consult your doctor”, knowing very well they’d never recommend it even if it’ll work.
It’s hard to sell a product when we’re not allowed to talk about its effects and benefits. When dealing with psychotropic products, having limitations on communication is not only to an extent dangerous but holds the industry back from expanding consumer’s horizons.
Legalization only works when there’s complete transparency; cannabis went from something whispered about between friends to being recognized legally on a federal level — but now they want us to whisper about it in a dispensary, and dictate what we can and can’t say.
Which Canadian producers have impressed you the most, and what makes these producers stand out?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one when there are so many amazing operations across Canada, however, I find myself gravitating to producers with unique genetics, facilities, grow processes, or sustainable practices.
I really enjoy Breathing Green Solutions, Simply Bare, Candre Cannabis, Greentone, Atlas Growers, and Joi Botanicals are all awesome & small operations with great genetics. I personally am a flower person, so this list won’t have many concentrate/vape producers – but I still love and appreciate them all.
What has you most excited about the future of the cannabis industry?
All of us in the industry working together to demand change.
Every day I go online I read about opinions, data sharing, and the progress each one of us is making to ensure a better tomorrow for the cannabis industry.
Hopping on and seeing our community interact is very unique — You’re not seeing Wendy’s and KFC being buddy-buddy online, but you can see staff from one licensed producer to another saying nothing but nice things about the other companies and the products they offer.
Our future is bright when the community is this tight-knit and strong. Cannabis is a business, but it’s also a culture, and when we root ourselves in the community, we will all grow.
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