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Marijuana Jobs: Industry Analysis


In the midst of a sluggish economy, cannabis jobs are getting all the buzz as the new emerging industry and the next Great American Opportunity. Some even call it the Green Rush. And as with any new sector of the economy, a legal marijuana industry means marijuana jobs! New websites are popping up to cover the financial side, like GreenrushInvestors.com and MJBizDaily.com. Media reports project different numbers over different time spans, but they’re always in the tens of billions and growing, growing, growing!
In the first year of Colorado’s great “legal weed experiment”, the state collected $44 million in tax revenue, and Washington State increased its coffers by $16.3 million in its first six months. This is just from recreational markets. As with any other industry, there are many more ancillary positions than just weighing out grams at a pot dispensary. Many job qualifications remain the same as in any other industry. But the emergence of the cannabis industry has an unprecedented historical significance and as an industry emerging from the shadows, there are some complications unique to landing one of the coveted “weed jobs”.
So before you pack up your baggies and head west, keep in mind there are some things to consider.  To learn more about what it’s like finding employment in the cannabis industry, I turned to the qualified professionals at some of the many staffing and temp services that are cultivating talent to fill the needs of the market. They include Staffing Services like THC Staffing GroupTHC Talent SolutionsMs Mary Staffing,Grasshopper Staffing, and HempTemps. Legitimizing an industry that previously was associated with criminals and “drug dealers” is a challenge, so it is taking some time to demonstrate that companies aren’t just looking for, as Daniel Peck of THC Talent Solutions puts it, “stoners looking for free product”, but in fact “hard-working employees”. And these employees can come from any sector of the economy, not just previously illegal trades.

“The most important thing I hear from all the agencies is to be knowledgeable. Do your homework and be prepared to study.”
Positions range from being a budtender or a trimmer, both highly in demand positions and requiring some specific knowledge, to traditional positions like sales, IT, marketing, lab, design, security, even now the industry is generating construction and legal jobs. Employers want easily adaptable people who are experienced. So you can also take experience from traditional positions that are non-cannabis related and use it to enter a trade specific to the industry. For example, a potential budtender can apply with any customer service background, while a trimmer or grower can come from any botanical background as long as they apply these skills to cannabis. Shannon Foreman of Hemp Temps prefers commercial experience, but will look on a resume for “something that fits where they will be placed.”
The most important thing I hear from all the agencies is to be knowledgeable. Do your homework and be prepared to study. The biggest problem in the industry right now is people wanting to hop on the budwagon without really understanding the industry. As Steven Sullivan of Ms Mary Staffing points out: “This industry is practically brand new, so there’s a huge talent pool of people that don’t have experience in this industry, so it’s about getting them in, getting them experience, getting them trained, and knowing products. Not only different strains of marijuana but also the different kinds of edibles because they are going to be working with customers on a day-to-day basis”. Many of the agencies, including Grasshopper Staffing and HempTemps, offer in-house training programs. They might then place you in an internship to see if you really got what it takes.

“There are a lot of restrictions on the burgeoning marijuana industry.”
One of the other problems that comes up is people wanting to relocate to get in on the action. Not so fast! There are a lot of restrictions on the burgeoning marijuana industry.  There are more requirements than your average industry, though it varies from state-to-state. In Colorado, for example, workers are required to hold a MED badge, and the agencies won’t even consider you if you don’t have one. You will have to pass a background check and pay licensing fees. Be prepared to make an investment in yourself because, as Cheri Zanotelli of Grasshopper Staffing notes, “The state needs their cut.” Standards are looser in California, where there are no standardized regulations, and many caregivers working in medical marijuana jobs are technically “volunteers”. But you don’t have to necessarily go west. The next big market is Illinois, and some services, like THC Talent Solutions and Ms Mary Staffing, place candidates nationwide.
Besides adaptability, employers are looking for a stable work history and clean background. Since it’s not yet a nationally sanctioned industry, many companies are small businesses or start-ups. Shaleen Title of THC Staffing Group says “It's the nature of a small business/startup type business that you'll need people who are willing to help out and do whatever needs to be done, even if that means learning a new skill. If you can demonstrate that, it's helpful. And that type of varied experience will be good for your career in the long-term as well.” Ms. Foreman of HempTemps mentions “longevity and people who have settled in Colorado” as pluses, citing the success of her temp-to-hire program. Daniel Peck adds: “Employers are having difficulty finding experienced marijuana talent because these candidates can't be found through traditional job postings or job boards.” This is one of the unique to cannabis aspects of job placement. Your legitimate experience may not be appropriate for a resume. But people like Ms. Foreman say that’s changing.

“Entry level positions, like budtenders, sales or trimming, will get an hourly wage, in most places, between $10-$15 an hour”
As usual, standard problems plague the industry. Theft is a concern, hence the background checks. But Ms. Foreman says “the MED badge program weeds them out pretty well for us”. Compliance and efficiency are on employers minds. Overstating your skills is a problem not all that different from secretaries reporting their words per minute abilities. Ms. Foreman explains how “possible candidates fib about the amount of weight they can put out while trimming. For example, they say they can trim 2 ibs in an 8 hour shift. Come to find out they cannot even hit 250 grams. It’s Microsoft word all over again!” Then there are the industry specific complications or things that don’t occur to na├»ve newbies. Ms. Zanotelli tells me “Some of our applicants take a trimming job and don’t understand some grows may require them to stand at length and they didn’t really count on that. And, you know, when you’re working in one of these facilities, your clothes and hands absorb the odor of the plant, your money absorbs the odor, so that’s always a surprise to people.” Another industry specific issue is adherence to the law. Daniel Peck says that “most of a budtender’s day revolves around knowing how not to break the law. Make sure things are packaged properly, sell within the weight requirements, check IDs, treat customers kindly, and never, ever recommend that someone take more than the state’s suggested edibles dosage of active THC.” Confidentiality is also an issue and all of Grasshoppers candidates have to sign a confidentiality agreement.
So what is the big payday for all this? Is there really gold in them thar herbs? Again, not so different from McDonalds or any other field. Entry level positions, like budtenders sales or trimming, will get an hourly wage, in most places, between $10-$15 an hour commensurate with experience, and depending on the living standards of the region. Management positions can come with a salary anywhere between 50k and 100K. Since many companies are starting out, they will offer higher commissions or equity in exchanged for a reduced base. There are many available entry-level positions that don’t have a lot of room for career growth plus require experience, and Ms. Title believes that “In general, people should expect to take a pay cut if they are coming from outside the industry. But marijuana companies make up for this by usually having a lot more opportunities for growth and advancement.” The one thing you can expect? A normal paycheck, with all the taxes taken out. That’s right, even though he won’t grant you a bank account, Uncle Sam is glad to take your tax dollars. So theoretically a “cultivation expert” in Colorado could be paying for the incarceration of someone in Kansas doing the exact same thing he is. Ms. Zanotelli says “It’s very interesting how they can do that.”

“There are a number of ways to get in, even without experience.”
So, yeah, you do have to get your unemployed butt off the couch to find work in the cannabis industry. There are a number of ways to get in, even without experience. The first and most effective way is to have friends or family in the business, to get a position through contacts, especially for cannabis jobs, because in that way the industry is still like “ummm, yeah, do you got a hook-up? Think you could vouch for me?”, thanks to its decades long tainted reputation. Be a cannabis crusader, of course, and don’t reinforce the negative perceptions. Ms. Zanotelli says that “In my experience, the most promising candidates can demonstrate both an excellent work record and a strong commitment to moving the marijuana movement and industry forward.” Trade shows and job fairs can be an effective place to make contacts as well as networking groups and conferences. Stephen Sullivan says that companies are looking at “a talent pool without experience.” So be knowledgeable , study this stuff, what could be more fun? It will make you stand out in a crowded garden. There is training available. Daniel Peck tells me “There are established training academy's that teach skills such as bud tending or pot dispensary management but don't guarantee employment once the training is completed. It's just like school. You show up, study, get a degree and then need to find a job.” You can find postings for jobs on new sites like 420careers.com, Cannajobs.com and THCjobs.com. The staffing services all have websites, and regularly use Twitter, LinkedIn, and some mainstream sites to maintain their database in addition to posting on the 420 job sites. Really, it’s all about your character, passion, drive and commitment, not just to cannabis but to high standards, no pun intended. Shaleen Title at THC Staffing Group sums it up: “At this relatively early stage, anyone can be successful in the marijuana industry if they take the time and effort to understand the industry first and then make the right connections. Reaching out to recruiting companies like ours is just one way to make a connection. I encourage people to frequent marijuana dispensaries and businesses, learn how they work, and make friends with the people who work there.” So what are you waiting for? All 50 states to legalize? Go out there and get your weed job today!

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