Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Kevin A. Yelvington, D.Phil.

Committee Member

Anand Kumar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Marty Otañez, Ph.D.

Committee Member

E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rebecca K. Zarger, Ph.D.


Budtender, Commodity Chain, Economic Anthropology, Political Economy


Coloradans have changed their fundamental views on illegal substances since the decriminalization of cannabis in Colorado. Since the legalization of medical cannabis in 2014, state-sold dispensary cannabis products have straddled the line between legal and illegal network systems in a hybridized “il/legal” market system, a term designed to be ambiguous of the formal and informal economies that it represents (Nordstrom 2007, xxvii). The cannabis commodity chain has proved both familiar and strange when it comes to its production, consumption, and distribution of a federally illegal substance. Colorado’s history as a pioneer in culture and legislature has been repeated with cannabis legalization and provides a unique experience that cannot be replicated, drawing in tourists who produce income for the state. This il/legal experimentation will both prove vital in finding the market homeostasis of cannabis nationwide, but also, to see how Colorado’s unique cannabis regulatory system affects this specific population’s socio-economic lifeway. This dissertation focuses on ethnographic research from the perspective of the Colorado dispensary “budtender,” an ambiguous role that has taken on different value-meanings depending on the state, system, and context, and it explores how these workers conceptualize their role in the cannabis commodity chain. Ethnographic methods proposed in this study lend well in explaining the relationship between regulation, tourism, and civil society, as well as documenting the transitionary period of Colorado history. This dissertation contributes to the literature by providing an ethnographic account of how budtenders navigate a newly formed economic sector and provides a starting point to collaborate with agencies to find practical solutions to the hardships workers face in the cannabis industry.