With medical marijuana now legal in well over half of the U.S. and recreational marijuana use allowed in eleven states (and counting), cannabis companies are scrambling to fill a rush of new jobs in the industry—an estimated 340,000 of them nationwide by 2020.
Contemplating a career change? Think about this: In older, more established businesses, you may have noticed, a lack of industry-specific experience can land your resume in the circular file pretty quickly. Not so in the marijuana trade, an industry growing so fast that “there just aren’t enough people with direct experience, so we have to bring people in from outside,” says Karson Humiston, founder and CEO of cannabis recruiters Vangst in Denver. “We have no choice.”
Moreover, as the cannabis industry gets bigger, the kinds of talent employers want is changing. “A shrinking percentage of newly created jobs now require you to deal directly with the [marijuana] plant,” notes Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the 1,500-member trade group National Cannabis Industry Association. “Finance managers, marketing and branding experts, HR professionals—cannabis companies are hiring people with the same backgrounds as any other business.”
So how do you get in on all this growth? Here are four ways to get a job in the cannabis industry:
1. Try traditional job search methods.
It’s worth talking to marijuana-industry recruiters. Two that have been around the longest (since 2015 and 2014, respectively) are Vangst and San Francisco-based THC Staffing Group. But bear in mind that, as marijuana legalization spreads, all kinds of job boards and other help-wanted venues now post cannabis companies’ job openings, too. “We do post on job boards, and we have an active employee-referral program,” says Christine Hodgdon, who was vice president of human resources at a Denver-area oil-and-gas company before Vangst tapped her last year for her current role as HR chief at Native Roots Colorado. “We also hire some walk-ins—people who just come into one of our dispensaries and ask how to apply.”
2. Get connected.
Even more than in most other fields, building a network of relationships with cannabis industry insiders helps, and the number of local and regional networking events, easily Googled, is proliferating. Beyond that, experts recommend signing up, if possible, to at least one of four big cannabis conferences, all coming up soon: Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo in Los Angeles in September and in Boston a month later; the NCIA California Business Expo in Anaheim in October; and the Marijuana Business Daily‘s trade show in Las Vegas in November. Can’t get away to attend any of these? “If you follow specific cannabis companies on social media, you’ll often find job postings and networking events popping up,” says Christine Hodgdon. “Maybe because these are all young enterprises, they tend to be much more active online than many bigger, more established businesses.”
3. Do your homework.
Of course, every job hunter should study up on industry trends and topics before meeting with interviewers, but in the cannabis business it’s essential, because the marijuana industry is still extremely heavily regulated everywhere. Just one example of why that matters: “Let’s say you’re an advertising executive interviewing at a cannabis company,” says Danielle Schumacher, founder and chief of THC Staffing Group. “You need to be well-versed in the various laws about how and where cannabis can be advertised, even in states like Colorado and California. Taking too big a creative risk in your ads—what in another kind of company would be just ‘pushing the envelope’—could get your entire company shut down.”
4. Bring a startup mindset.
Not only are state and federal rules and restrictions on marijuana companies extensive, but “there are new ones every day, so you need to be super-adaptable and be able to change direction fast,” notes Karson Humiston at Vangst. “Candidates who have startup experience, and who have been through the scaling process, have a real advantage. People from large corporations, who aren’t used to rapid change, by contrast, tend to freak out.”
One more thing, in case you’re wondering: Direct experience of the product is optional. “Some employers might prefer to hire people who are [marijuana] consumers, simply because they’re more knowledgeable,” says Schumacher. “But it’s not a requirement.”