Staff Pick: Best budtender | Best of Chicago 2019 | Cannabis | Chicago Reader

Staff Pick: Best budtender 

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Tracy J. Lee

Lorena Cupcake

Lorena Cupcake is an arts and culture writer, social media expert, and—­according to the Reader's Best of Chicago poll—one of the city's top budtenders. Originally from California, Cupcake first got a look at the recreational cannabis industry through visits to their home state, and became familiar with medical marijuana dispensaries through their experiences as a patient. After doing some freelance work on the topic, they became interested in getting more involved. "I put it out there on Twitter, 'Hey, I'm looking for more opportunities to do more things in cannabis, if anyone hears about anything.'" They wound up getting a job with MOCA: Modern Cannabis Dispensary, where as a customer their taste for more obscure marijuana products had already caught the attention of their now-manager. Since joining the company, Cupcake has been able to merge their interests in cannabis retail with their media and marketing skills. "Because I have a background of being a writer and working in marketing, I'm able to work with them on some things about education and writing," they said. That's important to ­Cupcake ­because, as they say, "The message is as important as the sales."

Despite the normalization of cannabis culture, plenty of stereotypes and misconceptions about the products and users remain, but Cupcake is dedicated to debunking the myths, making dispensaries less intimidating, and encouraging people to open their minds. "Until we're recreational, most people can't come say hi to me at work," they said. "However, lots of people have read my articles, read my tweets, and [have] seen my photos. I think it's really important to educate people about cannabis no matter where they are geographically, or whether they're a patient or they're still waiting for access in Illinois. . . . I was so flattered to be nominated [for BoC] because it was proof to me that my work has managed to have a pretty far reach."

Cupcake's reach is likely to expand in 2020 as Illinois joins the ranks of states that have legalized recreational marijuana—though the idea that marijuana consumers can be divided into medical users and recreational users is among the many misconceptions they aim to correct. Noting that some recreational users take it for self-medicating purposes, and some medical users partake recreationally, they said, "I think that everybody uses it for overall wellness, and to be a better version of themselves, and to be in less pain, and to have more pleasure in their day-to-day life and social life—and I think everybody deserves access to that."

With the opening of the country's first cannabis restaurant in October, Cupcake's already looking toward a future where cannabis hospitality becomes legal in the state as well. "Those are the two topics where science is actually really interesting for me and easy to grasp and easy for me to explain to other people in a way that's accessible. So I absolutely want to go more in that direction, and I'm very excited about the potential in the future of restaurants and bars that can serve infused products, because I think I would be really helpful in that sort of industry."