With more than half of the United States now recognizing some form of legal marijuana use, medicinal or otherwise, the time is right (as in: right now!) to find a job in the cannabis industry. The continued mainstreaming of marijuana means more job growth and more business opportunities for Americans looking to join the green rush.
Cannabis has now become the fastest-growing sector of the US economy. According to the research firm New Frontier, 2015 was a “watershed year for the legal cannabis market,” with sales growing from $4.6 billion in 2014 to $5.7 billion last year—and the company anticipates a 26 percent increase in 2016, with the market closing the year at $7.1 billion. New Frontier further predicts that by 2020, legal market sales will soar past $22 billion.
Compared with other industries, cannabis is experiencing astronomical growth—surpassing the sales figures for organic foods, craft beer and hybrid vehicles. And if you ask Americans if they think marijuana should be legal, a resounding 56 percent say “yes,” according to the most recent CBS poll.
Even bigger news may be in store, as 2016 could well be the year in which the scales are tipped decisively in favor of legalization, with seven states—California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont—voting on whether to approve recreational use by adults.
But if you really need an indicator of marijuana’s popularity, get this: In 2015, Americans spent nearly five times as much money on pot ($3.4 billion) as they did on Oreo cookies ($711 million), according to “Rebranding Marijuana,” a report by the Madison Avenue cultural pulse-takers sparks & honey.
Along with marijuana’s mainstream acceptance comes plenty of exciting career opportunities in the cannabis space. But if the industry really is rife with jobs and there’s money to be made by budding ganjapreneurs, where should you start? How do you get your foot in the door?
CEO & Brand Ambassador for Chong’s Choice
Profession: World-famous comedian, actor and stoner
Locations: 25 dispensaries in California
Background: Known as one-half of the legendary stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong, Tommy Chong didn’t find it much of a stretch to create and develop a premier cannabis brand. With careful attention, he handpicks the highest-grade specimens of Chong Daddy Purple, an indica strain; My Friend Jack, a sativa; and Choice OG Kush, a hybrid. Rounding out the product line are THC-infused breath strips, disposable vape pens and a five-pack of pre-rolled joints.
Why cannabis: When it comes to Tommy, do you really need to ask? Unlike many budding entrants in the legal cannabis industry, Chong didn’t exactly need to go through a formal interview process, but he preaches that you “really have to love what you do—and I happen to love weed!”
Getting involved: Chong says he doesn’t seek out marijuana; it just comes to him. “The thing about Chong’s Choice, we tried different strains, but there’s so many strains growing as we speak. So rather than going for the strains, we went for the whole plant—and the grower. So Chong’s Choice is a collection of the best growers in America under one banner.” After signing the growers on, Tommy explains the distribution deal and how they connect with compassion clubs and dispensaries.
Qualifications: Never shy about his eternal love for weed, Chong is “unofficially known as the Pope of Dope—so I guess my title is ‘Pope,’” he says. “Or maybe ‘professional operational pot tester.’”
Advice: “To become good at anything,” Tommy says, “you have to practice, you have to learn, you have to study, you have to research. You gotta research! So my word, for everybody, is research. Do your research. If you wanna become a grower, learn how to grow. It’s not hard, but it is hard ….
“See, in this world—especially in the pot world—no one is going to give you anything,” Tommy adds. “I can’t give you the expertise, or the love, or the knowledge, or the impetus to do anything unless you really want to do it. Find something that you really love to do, and that way you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s the way my life was.”
Co–managing director of Greenspoon Marder
Locations: California, Colorado, New York and Florida; currently looking into Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania
Background: With a solid foundation representing clients in regulated industries like alcohol, tobacco and firearms, it only made sense that Greenspoon Marder would expand its national corporate practice to include cannabis law. From representing investors to helping processors and retailers navigate the complex and ever-changing world of state laws and regulations, Gerald Greenspoon and his firm of 180 attorneys even have plans to create their own compliance program to help shape the cannabis industry.
Why cannabis: Over the past several years, Greenspoon has observed the maturing of the industry with great interest. “Cannabis is a serious business that will continue to expand and is here to stay,” he concluded. With clients across the country expressing significant interest in the industry (and with significant dollars to invest), Greenspoon saw a lot of people “waiting to enter this business and looking for advice and consultation.”
Getting involved: “We’ve chosen the road of locating attorneys within each state that have been involved in the marijuana business in some fashion for several years and have some experience. So we’re not starting from scratch, but with experienced practitioners who understand the regulatory scheme and the business issues involved.”
Chloe Villano, the founder and president of Clover Leaf University, answers your questions about how to get a job in …
Cultivation is the hardest part of the marijuana business. It takes strict dedication and paying attention to detail to grow an efficient crop. We are noticing a huge demand for scalability and sustainability for final products for consumer and community safety. Understanding pesticide regulation by receiving your pesticide-application certification and pest-management training is one of the most important things to being a legal cultivator. These certifications will be imperative to getting and keeping a good job in the industry, and they could be mandated in some states.
Horticulture classes and any agricultural experience would be beneficial to the growth of your skills. You must remember that growing cannabis is not like growing tomatoes, and many business owners will want somebody who has had hands-on occupational experience. Get a job, start at the bottom and work your way up is always a great way to learn and gain experience. If you work really hard, you can excel with the company.
If you’re an engineer, scientist, doctor or somebody with scientific experience, topicals can be a very fun side of the cannabis industry. The license required to make topicals is a manufacturing license or an infused-product manufacturer’s license, known in Colorado as the MIPS license. These licenses are not required to be vertically integrated (meaning that you also grow your own), but they can be if you desire—some have cultivation jobs attached to the business, but not all do. When it comes to infused-product manufacturers, the most important thing is safety and cleanliness. Any safety training, food handling, packaging, labeling, or wholesale transportation classes and experience would definitely help you land a job working in topicals.
While edibles manufacturing can be a lot of fun, it’s also one of the most regulated parts of the cannabis industry. Edibles manufacturers are required to hold an infused-product manufacturing license. Jobs and careers include cooking, creative design, packaging, labeling, artistic design, branding, transportation and business expansion. Many states have required minimum and maximum doses, and edibles manufacturers must remain in strict compliance to make sure their doses do not deviate from those standards. Any Health Department classes for food and safety handling, and all other required classes regarding diseases, molds, microbials, etc., would be beneficial to your expertise and help land you a job working in edibles.
Concentrates are by far the highest-liability business for an employer. In Colorado, they’ve implemented a Class I, Division I lab build-out requirement, which means that employees have additional regulations and requirements to meet to operate machines, use supercritical-fluid extractions and produce final products. There are strict regulations from the seed to the creation of the infused product, to the packaging and final transportation. If you want to get a job in concentrates, you need to understand safety data sheets and supercritical-fluid-extraction safety procedures, and gain occupational experience by starting somewhere in one of these facilities.
Machine safety training is also a plus. A good recommendation is to apply for a job and learn the business while building relationships. A few years of on-the-job training and working your way up will show any employer that you’re committed.
Ancillary businesses are by far the fastest-growing sector in the cannabis industry. Even though this is a new industry and the businesses are very young, they can be excellent places to get started. If you’re a designer, construction builder, engineer, marketing director, event planner, culinary art chef or have any other type of experience that could be beneficial to the industry, then working for an ancillary business would be great for you.