Tending flower

A national recruiting and training company prepares candidates for jobs in the hemp and cannabis industry.

Tending flower
HempStaff provides training for individuals interested in working in the hemp and cannabis industry.

How does one become a budtender?

Some start their own dispensaries. Others know people who do it. Some patients parlay their knowledge of the medicine into a job opportunity. But others are looking for any chance to get their foot in the door, and HempStaff aims to help.

The company will be holding two of its four-hour workshops in Oklahoma City on Saturday at Embassy Suites, 1815 S. Meridian Ave.

James Yagielo, the CEO and co-founder, started the company in April 2014. He spent two decades in the information technology industry with an emphasis on recruiting, while his wife has 25 years experience in hospitality industry recruiting and training.

“One of the needs we found right away was the need to have trained people when you were opening a dispensary,” Yagielo said. “Since they were interacting with the medical patients, it was quite important to have someone knowledgeable, and a lot of dispensaries were struggling with that, so we partnered with some people in the industry. Some dispensary managers created our curriculum. Since then, it’s been revised by a cannabinoid doctor, actually, and we, to date, have trained over 6,500 people in 20 states.”

This will be the third Oklahoma date for HempStaff. The first, in Oklahoma City, and the second, which was held in Tulsa, have both sold out. Each class is capped at 75 students.

“Not everyone passes the course, but we’ve probably certified in the first classes 200 to 250 people,” Yagielo said.

Each of HempStaff’s trainers has at least five years in the cannabis industry, with at least two years of managerial experience.

We really cover the whole gamut so that when they get an interview for a dispensary, they can speak intelligently to the dispensary owner or manager.” — James Yagielo

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“It’s a four-hour crash course to get someone interview-ready to work in a dispensary,” Yagielo said. “As you know, there’s almost 850 dispensary licenses that have been given out so far, so there’s gonna be a lot of jobs for people to work in dispensaries. Not all of them are going to be able to survive. So the ones with the best employees are going to have the best chance of surviving. No one wants to go in there and know more than the person that works there. And unfortunately, that happens a lot if they’re not trained properly.”

The course begins by discussing a state-customized set of regulations and the qualifying conditions to obtain a license, Yagielo said. Oklahoma has no qualifying conditions.

“We then move on to the history of cannabis, how we got to where we are today, and then we get into the nitty-gritty, which is, you know, we cover the top dozen cannabinoids there in cannabis and what each does to help the body, how it helps the endocannabinoid system in the body, discovering the different terpenes there in cannabis and cannabis products and how those medicinally help the body,” he said. “And then we cover about the top two dozen cannabis products that you might see in the dispensary. Everything from the basic flower and, you know, shatter and dabs and all that down to the ones people aren’t aware of, like topicals and transdermal patches and suppositories even, so we really cover the whole gamut so that when they get an interview for a dispensary, they can speak intelligently to the dispensary owner or manager and show their passion for cannabis.”

There is a 20-question test at the end of the course that must be passed with a 75 percent or better score to get one of HempStaff’s internal certifications.

“If people don’t pass, we allow them to come back to a future class at no charge, attend and take the class again,” he said.

Another advantage is that any previous student can attend any future class at no charge in any state.

“So even if you move to, say, Arkansas, you can attend the Arkansas class to get the regulations you didn’t get in Oklahoma,” Yagielo said.

Every class is about 10 to 15 percent different based on the state. Budtenders are not required to have a patient license in Oklahoma, nor are they required to be certified by a state agency or private company before dispensing medical marijuana. The only criteria is that they are at least 21 years old.

“It’s a free market state at this point,” Yagielo said. “There’s 850 dispensaries, and even if you had the best patient count out there, there’s no way that that many can survive on a ratio of 20 patients per dispensary. So it’s really going to create the ‘best dispensary wins’ scenario, where in other states with limited licenses, if it’s a crappy dispensary, there’s only four in the state, they’re going to stay open.

“We also do a little resume review in our class, and we give them a template to use for the cannabis industry and they can fill out information and they can send it to us and we’ll critique it. And what we say is, use our training course as talking points. So never admit to anything illegal, but if you say something that you know you’re knowledgeable about, you can always say, ‘You know, here’s another thing I’ve learned in training courses’ and apply the knowledge that way. But you can’t ever really say you have hands-on knowledge. A lot of employers will just eliminate you immediately if you admit to illegal activity. Once you get the job and you’re on the job, you can then show your skills, and in this industry, promotions happen very quickly.”

Yagielo said that when dispensaries come to them for employee recommendations, they put their students first. However, HempStaff cannot guarantee placement for every student who takes the course.

Yagielo said he anticipates as a conservative estimate between 1,500 and 2,000 budtender positions in the state at the end of 2019.

“No one has gone exactly about it like Oklahoma, so it’s hard to say, but the patient count to dispensary count is definitely not normal. In most states, you’re probably looking at about 1,000 patients per dispensary,” he said. “It’s definitely a very good experiment. If it goes well, I think other states are going to copy the model. Oklahoma is the first one to do it. It stops all the lawsuits. Everyone has a chance.”

In 2019, HempStaff also plans to begin online courses for the hemp industry and an advanced course for budtenders.

Classes are 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and cost $249 per class.

Visit hempstaff.com.

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