It’s easy to assume that anyone who wants to sell cannabis products in a dispensary is just a pothead looking for easy access. But in a fledgling industry that’s quickly hitting its groove, that’s a dangerously limited take for two reasons. First, stereotypes are trouble. And second, there’s a surprising level of nuance in this kind of work, and it’s the perfect balance of experience, people skills, and awareness that sets some budtenders apart from the crowd. In 2018 here in Reno, Trista Barnes from Mynt Cannabis is one of them. We sat down behind the counter with Reno’s favorite budtender to talk shop.
When Trista starts talking about her grandmother, it’s immediately clear that their relationship is special. “My Nana Barbara was so happy when I got this job,” she explains. “She’s in her eighties now, but she was a big cannabis activist back in the 60s in San Francisco – where it all started!”
But beyond a grandmother who was clearly ahead of her time, Trista’s interest in cannabis began with a purpose. After dealing with anxiety and suffering through migraines, she gave up on over-the-counter options that did nothing to help her manage her symptoms. “Nothing worked until I found 1000mg CBD tincture,” she says. “Plain, no THC. That’s the only thing that works.”
“I was one of those kids… doing my own research on CBD and THC and drug testing basics,” Trista says. “I’ve always been not-your-average stoner.”
Armed with personal experience, a habit for research, and one of those super approachable and friendly personalities, Trista was an obvious choice when Mynt started hiring in the spring of 2017. She sailed through training, supplementing her own research and experience with the rules and regulations of the newly minted industry, as well as specifics on the endocannabinoid system and how the bodies’ CB1 and CB2 receptors react to cannabis. It was a full week of intensive training, complete with PowerPoint presentations and product familiarization, followed by another seven days of hands-on training. Budtenders-in-training, including Trista, shadowed experienced staff members to observe patient interaction and the ins-and-outs of the sales process. In their third week of training, they were closely shadowed themselves, and training continues to this day.
Employees are encouraged to stay current on industry trends and news through their own research. “We keep up with self education as well, constantly,” Trista explains. A supervisor position exists solely to help budtenders with that education, while online network at the dispensary makes it easy for staff to share what they’re learning.
That’s the thing about the cannabis industry – it’s unfolding in real time, with technology, research, and new discoveries changing almost weekly. For budtenders – the folks charged with making recommendations not only for recreational use, but as a remedy for actual medical issues – that means experience, a solid understanding of the science, and plain ol’ instincts are non-negotiable.
“That’s something you learn after working in the industry so long,” Trista says. “When you first start, you meet a lot of newbies who are like, ‘absolutely, definitely, positively,’ and after a while that’s when you learn that’s not a thing. There is no such a thing as absolutely, positively, or definitely. You have to go per person and decide what’s best for them. You can’t promise anything to anyone. That’s the biggest thing.”
She’s right. So much of cannabis is highly unique to the individual, with no one-size-fits-all recommendation. It’s very much a process of trial and error, of fine-tuning, of fiddling, and the only way to really dial things in is with an ongoing patient-budtender relationship. This is the intangible part of being a really great budtender – that certain something that makes it easy for someone to speak frankly about what’s happening. Being open, approachable, and completely non-judgmental are all valuable traits in this business.
Trista sees her role as both an observer and a listener. She can tell right off the bat when someone is unsure of what they want, what they need, whether this is the right option, all of it. “And that’s when you start asking questions,” she says, reeling off some of her standards. “Do you have any doctor-prescribed anything? Do you know if you have ADD? Do you know if you have ADHD? Do you know if you have hyperthyroid? Any of these things can make everything react very differently to your body than what we’re used to on paper. So that’s where I start.” Intentions and methods of consumption are also covered, and in general, “you have to fish,” Trista says. “They don’t really know, so you have to fish. ‘Tell me what feeling you want,’ is usually my favorite question,” she explains, when she’s dealing with inexperience. “Then they’ll start naming off words that you’re familiar with in strains – happy, euphoric, sedative – and that’s when you start showing them those things.”
Above all, Trista wants everyone to feel comfortable and leave armed with all the information they could have possibly needed. “That’s what we really strive for here,” she says. “All of us here… are really good at that, at being able to go, okay, let’s not make you feel weird, ask as many questions as you want.”
It’s fair to say that most budtenders are familiar with asking leading questions and picking up on non-verbal cues. Then again, there’s only one first-place winner for Best Budtender in the Reno News & Review’s annual contest. So what sets Trista apart?
When I ask her, she laughs and blushes before answering. “To be honest, I have this weird little guru thing where people come in and talk to me for a few minutes, I get a vibe off of them and I can hook them up with a strain and no joke, every time they come back they’re like, ‘that was exactly what I was looking for!’ ” It’s that intangible thing that Trista has in spades. “I’m very aware of the way people are,” she says, “and I’m really good at energy pick-up.” She also has a knack for making people fully understand the biomechanics and science of it all. “I’m very, very good at putting things in layman’s terms,” she says. “I myself do not understand a lot of the technical terms, so I’m that person who goes and looks up those technical terms and then makes it easy for everyone else to understand.”
Pair those admirable abilities with what Trista describes as her “favorite thing about me” – her naturally perky, happy approach that puts people instantly at ease – and it’s not hard to figure out why Trista is so deserving of that best budtender title.
It’s an honor, really, and it’s easy to see how gratified Trista is for the recognition. We’re betting her nana is even more excited.