Should we tip our budtenders? The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” No justifiable policy reason exists, and even if it did, the WSLCB has not made that reason public. Instead, the LCB’s agents have gone into King County I502 stores and demanded that budtenders take down tip jars. If the WSLCB wants to eliminate tip jars for budtenders, there is no one to stop them. It’s up to us (and you) to fight it.

Why do we hate tipping so much? The short answer is that we don’t. While it’s true that more than a hundred years ago our legislators enacted the first anti-tipping law in the US (and five more states followed), it’s clear that the laws were not taken seriously by the people or by the government. Washington State’s 1909 anti-tipping law was so poorly regarded when it passed that Governor Hay himself caused a minor scandal when he broke the new law. “If a waiter gives good service I feel like rewarding him… I do not believe the law prohibiting tipping is being observed at all and I am not afraid of being arrested,” he told a reporter for the San Francisco Call in August of that year. Anti-tipping movements were clearly never taken seriously, but even in 1909 it was the legislators’ call to make, not a decision to be made by an administrative body with little oversight from elected officials.

It was a different time, and public sentiment was that tipping placed the tipper in a position of power. That power made the tippee socially inferior, a concept alien to the core American value of equality. It was considered un-American to tip back when servers were paid living wages. Largely through that logic, tipping had all but disappeared by the time of the Great Depression. By most accounts, everything changed when FDR was elected- somewhere between the New Deal and the end of WWII tipping came roaring back and it’s been a bedrock benefit of service industry jobs ever since.

It’s long been industry custom to tip bartenders, baristas, sommeliers, servers, hotel concierge and bellhops, elevator conductors and doormen, cab drivers, karaoke hosts, and even tattoo artists. What makes a budtender different? It’s easy. Budtenders AREN’T different. The WSLCB wants to argue that we don’t tip liquor store employees, but there are two glaring problems with their analogy. First, since when does the regulating body get to determine industry custom? A famous judge (Learned Hand on Negligence for any policy wonks out there) once said that to find the best way to regulate industry, the law should look to industry custom. We agree! The WSLCB’s approach is backward in policy and counterproductive to Seattle’s goal of raising minimum wages for all employees.

Second, and more important for this discussion, liquor stores have samples! A budtender is more like a sommelier than a clerk at a liquor store. Your budtender is a person steeped in cannabis knowledge, there to guide your personal journey to nirvana. Just like at an I502 shop, you don’t get to sample wine before you buy it at a restaurant. Once that bottle is opened, it’s yours unless it’s spoiled. That sip you get after the bottle is opened isn’t a sample- it’s to make sure your bottle isn’t corked!

Like that sommelier, your budtender plays a game of 20 Questions with each customer, finding just the right strain for his or her needs. Because customers don’t get to sample on premises, or even open jars to smell or touch the product, they’re forced to rely on the budtender’s expertise. Your budtender has to spend unpaid time away from the counter going through samples, making tasting notes, and generally keeping up with each new product that comes through the shop. Morally, we should pay them for that effort because all work deserves fair pay- not just the strictly on-the-clock work behind the counter. These men and women have spent long hours building their knowledge and experience just so they can help us, and to eliminate tip jars is to say that their time is only worth minimum wage. We know that’s not true!

What do you think? Hit us up on twitter @WACannattorney and use the #tipyourbudtender hashtag to comment!

For further reading:

San Francisco Call, Volume 106, Number 75, 14 August 1909