July 8 2015 11:16 AM

A budtender rehashes his job selling medical marijuana

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As told to Alex Roth

I'm a budtender in San Diego. Which is basically like a bartender except I'm selling medical marijuana. I got into this line of work five years ago when I responded to an ad on Craigslist. It's easier for women to get these jobs, especially hot women. You'll see ads all the time on Craigslist for "female budtender," then they'll want you to send them a photo of yourself.

You witness some interesting encounters working in a dispensary. One time one of my female customers, a high school teacher, came face-to-face with one of her students, who also happened to be shopping in the store. She froze, then made an immediate U-turn out of the room, trying to hide her face. The student said to me, "I think that was one of my teachers right there." I'm assuming he was 18. Someone checked his ID at the door. The teacher came back later and started lecturing me about raising the age limit for the customers. She was not happy about it.

The same people you pass on the street, every one of those people is a customer at the place I work, whether it's the guy spinning the signs on the corner, whether it's the mom, the dad, the lawyer or the hoodlum. One of my customers is a sushi chef. Most are grateful. They'll say, "Thank you for having this place open. Thank you for giving me access to my medicine."

I'd worked a variety of other jobs before doing this. I sold cars for a bit. For a time I worked at a group home for severely disabled kids. Some of the kids were violent and chemically imbalanced. You've got a kid holding a rock this big (holds up glass of water) and he wants to throw it at your face. Sometimes I had to physically restrain them on the floor or lock them inside a padded room the size of a closet.

I hated all those jobs. So I figured I might as well do something I enjoy. I'm 39 now and I've been smoking weed since I was 14 and selling it almost as long. I take pride in my knowledge and customer service. If you're in my line, I'm giving you the same thing I'd give to myself. I'm very meticulous. I'll be sure to avoid selling you the bud at the bottom of the tree, which gets less light and probably isn't as good. I'll try to sell you one bigger bud rather than several smaller ones, because the crystals inside the big bud haven't been compromised. You'll have brand new crystals every time you break it open.

I'm a good judge of quality because I have such a high tolerance. I'm snobby about my weed. I don't want to smoke it all day and barely be high. I want to take two bong hits and be done.

There are plenty of downsides to doing what I do. At the place I work, we don't know if we're going to be there tomorrow. One weekend, the cops shut down three dispensaries. As a result, my boss started freaking out and we stopped taking new patients. I have no job security. Plus there's no real room for advancement. Above me is the manager and above him the owner, and neither one of them wants to relinquish their position anytime soon.

I make $10 an hour. I have no health insurance. The owner just cut back my hours because we're not getting enough customers—maybe 15 a day. That's because we want to stay under the radar. We'll stick some fliers in the head shops or at a medical-marijuana doctor's office but that's the extent of our public outreach.

If California legalizes marijuana, it would be great for me. Our stores could advertise, get more customers and they'd have the money to increase my hours. Trying to shut down dispensaries is an exercise in futility. It's like playing Whack-A- Mole. You shut this motherfucker down over here and it pops up over there.

That's sort of what happened with the first place I worked. It was an East County storefront at first. Then the cops shut us down. So we started up a few weeks later as a delivery-only service, without the storefront. I became a delivery driver for a while, which wasn't a particularly enjoyable occupation.

I was driving 1,000 miles a week, getting paid $4 per delivery plus an hourly wage, averaging 20 deliveries a day. You're alone all day, with nothing but the thoughts inside your head, dealing with road rage, lights that turn red on you, the boss texting you every few minutes with a new order that makes you have to recalculate your entire route. Pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure. My coverage area was huge—Chula Vista to Mira Mesa, Alpine to the beach. I'd cherish those two minutes I could interact with an actual human being, a customer. You always meet interesting people. One female customer had a stripper pole in the middle of her living room.

My boss hired a lawyer to give us a tutorial on some of the do's and don'ts. The lawyer's two main points of emphasis: 1) Don't smoke and drive; 2) Never consent to a police search of your car. I always kept the weed in ziplock plastic bags in a cooler in the trunk.

So I left that job and eventually landed at the place I work now. There's lots of down time at my current dispensary. My co-worker and I spend a lot of time playing FIFA 2013 on PlayStation. We're currently making our way through Boardwalk Empire on Netflix. I smoke a lot of weed on the job. There's usually a lot of house stuff just sitting around waiting to be consumed. Stuff reserved for company use.

Vendors come by the store all the time. Sometimes they call ahead of time; sometimes they drop by unannounced, looking to sell us stuff in bulk. The edible products are getting more and more creative. There's even medicated beef jerky on the market right now.

One of the cushiest jobs in this business is security guard. We had an armed guard at my former workplace, a dispensary on El Cajon Boulevard in La Mesa. He would get paid $25 or $30 an hour just to sit there hour after hour. He seemed to have plenty of friends in the gang world. He probably wasn't banging at the moment—he worked for a professional security firm—but he had some tattoos suggesting a connection to that life. His homies would come in and he'd sit back talking to them. He'd hit on the female customers. He was an attractive male. He would see the chicks as they came in and he'd see them as they went out. He was tagging shit left and right out of that place, dude.

The owners of that place made money hand-over-fist but kept things very low key. They stayed way under the radar. One of them drove some hunk-of-shit car. Every once in a while they'd go blow it up in Vegas. They were always vague about their backgrounds. You'd ask them, "What did you do before this?" "Went to school." "What did you do before that?" "Little of this, little of that."

I'm pretty up front about my occupation. Unless you're a cop, I'm usually completely honest if you ask me what I do for a living. My mom would probably prefer I did something else but at this point we're adults and she just wants me to be happy. She's as cool with it as you can be without being cool with it.

My goal—my dream—is to own my own dispensary so I can pay off my student loans and take a vacation every once in awhile. It would be much simpler for me if weed were legal in California.

Which will happen eventually, probably sooner rather than later. Look at all the money Colorado is collecting in taxes. And California's way bigger than Colorado. Money talks. Money fucking talks.

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