So you’ve been enjoying legal cannabis and have your favorite shop and go-to budtender, but now you’re thinking maybe you want to get in on the action. Do you have the skills needed to make it in a newly emerging and dynamic industry?
According to Brooklyn-based journalist Andrew Ward, the answer is quite likely “yes.” Ward is a freelance writer and editor who has been covering the growth and development of the industry for several years. In his new book “Cannabis Jobs,” he draws on his knowledge and connections to offer readers insight into how they can find their place in this new market.
The short description of his conclusion is, just about everyone can locate a niche for themselves. In the few brief years since states first began experimenting with legal sales and production, cannabis has exploded into a multibillion dollar business, and, like all significant areas of the economy, it has been corporatized. This, in turn, means that cannabis growers and sellers need the same sort of employees, contractors, freelancers, and more (including lawyers) as any other thriving sector does.
Ward breaks his book into chapters detailing these needs. He explains the specifics of how the cannabis business employs various specialists and gives readers ideas of what each job might pay. He backs that up with observations from people now working in cannabis who provide insight into what’s needed and why. It’s a short book, but he’s done a remarkable amount of research and legwork pulling it together.
One of the best areas to enter is the technology side. Software engineers are developing programs that are specific to cannabis, but biotech offers even better opportunities. One of the fastest-growing parts of the industry is extraction. Lots of people want to get high but don’t want to smoke. Ways of getting THC out of the plant and into edibles and other products are still being developed and refined. Find a new and more-efficient means of doing this and you could find yourself very wealthy. So put that STEM degree to work.
Ward explores the obvious areas: growing, manufacturing, processing, and sales, as well as distribution and delivery. He also discusses budtending, the most visible link in the chain.
It’s a tough job, and the pay isn’t that great. Budtenders need to know the product intimately, must have strong personal interaction skills and be able to tiptoe along the line between offering health advice and making unproven medical promises. It’s not as easy as some might think.
The bright side, Ward notes, is that so far the nature of the industry is to promote from within as much as possible, so that budtender position could lead to better things.
On staffing and ownership, Ward has done the good and important job of looking at the demographics. While the cannabis industry is, overall, more progressive than most businesses, it’s still dominated by white men. Women own a larger share of operations than they do in most fields, but they are still underrepresented.
More alarming are the minority ownership statistics. While black Americans have borne the brunt of the War on Drugs and are imprisoned at much higher rates than whites despite having the same statistical likelihood of using illegal substances, few dispensaries or other cannabis ventures are minority-owned. This owes in part to a lack of access to capital. Since bank loans can’t be made for cannabis businesses, other investors need to be found. This puts people already living in poorer neighborhoods at a disadvantage. Ward returns to this topic several times, reiterating the need for those finding success in cannabis to extend a helping hand toward making the industry more egalitarian and in keeping with traditional cannabis ethics.
Ward hits other areas, including legal needs, promotion, freelance work, and dispensary ownership. The takeaway is, cannabis has become a regular business, and its need for skilled workers with a wide range of specialties will continue to grow.
The most important point, which he repeatedly drives home throughout the book, is that “flexibility is crucial.” Things are evolving quickly for legalized cannabis, and being alert and able to roll with unexpected changes is the key to success.
As a branding coordinator tells Ward, “If you come from a rigid corporate structure, cannabis will be hard to get a grasp of. If you can get a feel for the constant changes, and develop the ability to pivot in any direction necessary, you will have a much easier time.”
In other words, don’t be uptight.
David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.
Cannabis Jobs: How to Make a Living and Have a Career in the World of Legalized Marijuana
Skyhorse Publishing Inc.