The legal cannabis industry is replete with opportunity, and if you’ve ever thought about pivoting into the space now is the time. Whether you’re looking for a job with a cannabis business or to launch a company of your own, you can use the skills and experience you already have to get your foot in the door. This guide on how to pivot into the cannabis industry can help you get started on your professional cannabis journey and start the next chapter of your career.
Why pivot into cannabis?
Whether you’ve always been passionate about the plant or are simply looking for a new avenue to apply your skills, the cannabis industry offers many opportunities. According to the annual Leafly job report, the U.S. cannabis industry could support up to 1.75 million jobs when fully mature. Those include a variety of different roles, including “plant-touching” roles like cultivation and retail, as well as indirect ancillary positions in fields like marketing and finance.
The legal cannabis industry is also new, representing the end of a long-standing prohibition on the plant. That means people getting involved in this industry not only have the chance to work with cannabis, but the opportunity to build a new space and influence it in the way they want. A 2017 Statista poll noted two of the most common reasons people join the cannabis industry are the opportunity to create change and the ability to empower others.
Here in New York, long a cultural hub when it comes to cannabis, a regulatory framework is beginning to emerge to support the legal cannabis industry. New York City has now welcomed its first licensed adult-use cannabis dispensary in Housing Works Cannabis Co., and its first social equity license with Smacked. More licenses will be issued and dispensaries will be launched as the state is at the forefront of crafting social equity regulations to support participation in the industry by people who were impacted by prohibition-era policies and the War On Drugs. As the New York cannabis industry grows, so too do the opportunities.
How to pivot into the cannabis industry
The U.S. cannabis market is vast (projected to drive $72 billion annually by 2030), and has unique challenges. Education and preparation are essential to making the most out of opportunities in the field. Preparing to pivot into the industry the right way is the key to success, and the following tips are recommended.
1. Do your homework
Before building your brand or attending your first networking event, immerse yourself in as much information as possible. Cannabis is a unique industry still subject to all sorts of constraints other industries don’t face, so learn all you can before jumping in.
It’s important to remember that cannabis is still federally illegal, and the discrepancy between state and federal law varies greatly. Research industry standards and regulations within your state and beyond to be sure you’re aware of any variations – certain states may have certifications or qualification requirements for specific positions.
Additionally, there are unique tax considerations facing cannabis businesses, so if you’re looking to launch your own company it’s important to include those in your business plan. Section 280E, for example, bars any “business, or portion of its business, engaged in trafficking a Schedule I or II controlled substance (such as cannabis) from deducting non-COGS related deductions or credits for federal tax purposes.” For this reason, any potential cannabis business entrepreneur would be wise to assess their compliance under Section 280E prior to operation.
Finally, banking and funding have remained among the biggest hurdles for companies in the legal cannabis industry. Many banks opt not to work with cannabis businesses, and others may abruptly close accounts without much warning. Obtaining a line of credit or bank loan is similarly challenging (if not impossible) for most cannabis businesses, so don’t count on these conventional methods for funding a new company. Whether you are going to be plant-touching or ancillary, researching potential banks and financial services that are willing to work with cannabis businesses in advance will help to ensure you are prepared.
2. Assess your skills and how they apply
Consider your skills and interests when stepping into the cannabis industry. While you do not need previous cannabis experience for every industry position, understanding the roles a cannabis business needs to operate and how your skill set fits into a broader organization can help you find your niche.
Those with backgrounds in science and technology might be well-versed in working in a manufacturing or laboratory environment as an example of a career and/or business pivot. Retail and customer service is another example where someone’s skills can be put to work managing a dispensary.
Others may consider pivoting and getting involved in the ancillary side of the industry. Cannabis businesses need the same support services as other businesses, so attorneys, accountants, marketers, and more can all offer their services to the cannabis industry. Just be sure to learn the ins and outs of how cannabis is different so you can set yourself apart from other professionals trying to break into the space.
3. Build connections wherever you can
Bridging connections is essential to breaking into any industry. Luckily, there are tons of local and nationwide events in the cannabis industry for new and experienced professionals to connect and network. In New York City – the financial capital of the world – CWCBExpo’s annual conference is the first and largest B2B expo dedicated to the business of cannabis and hemp.
Where should I look for jobs in the cannabis industry?
Maybe you don’t want to pivot into the industry as an entrepreneur but are looking to get a job in cannabis. Many people are surprised to learn there are job opportunities right now that their current career has prepared them for. Some examples include:
- Cultivation: The cultivation sector includes breeders and grow facilities. It’s an ideal choice for people who have horticulture experience and are enthusiastic about commercial cultivation of all sorts of plants, including cannabis. The role doesn’t just involve the life cycle of the plant, but an understanding of the cutting-edge technologies meant to improve yields and standardize grow processes, among other aspects.
- Retail: Dispensaries often serve as the first point of entry for new employees in the cannabis industry. Budtender and dispensary associate positions are perfect for those who have retail or store management experience. In many cases, dispensary associates are the face of the brand, answering questions and making product recommendations for customers. Retail jobs in cannabis are generally best suited for those with excellent social skills and customer service experience. Inventory management skills are also a must.
- Laboratories: As the legal cannabis industry grows, laboratory and tech positions are becoming increasingly important. The legal cannabis industry relies heavily on research and testing to keep consumers and products safe and compliant with state regulations. Those with experience in laboratory or science-based environments can consider positions in cannabis testing.
- Construction: Each of the above sectors relies on facilities that are built out to precise specifications, and that requires contractors who are well-versed in the construction needs of cannabis businesses. Especially amidst a struggling supply chain, contractors who are able to source the components and materials needed for a project and create a reliable timeline are key for license holders that are eager to launch their operations.
- Media and marketing: Media and marketing positions are essential in all industries – and cannabis is no exception. Marketing for cannabis businesses requires knowledge of both state regulation and platform terms of service, which make up a labyrinth of cannabis marketing do’s and don’ts that can make or break a brand. Those that are adept at navigating these challenges can provide serious value to the industry.
- Security: The cannabis industry can be lucrative to retail businesses that sell to consumers. That, coupled with the desirable products in store, can make a dispensary a target for robbery. Additionally, many state regulations mandate tight security considerations at cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and retail facilities. For this reason, cannabis security experts and personnel are necessary to protect cash, products, and people.
- Insurance: All businesses need insurance, but the cannabis industry carries with it some significant risks that mainstream businesses don’t face. That’s why cannabis insurance experts are so sorely needed. Helping connect businesses with underwriters that are willing to cover them can be a full-time job in itself.
There are, of course, many other types of jobs and business opportunities in the cannabis industry as well. From real estate to packaging, apparel to finance, consider how your background and skills connect to the existing needs of cannabis businesses — therein lies your pathway into the cannabis industry.
Opportunity is expanding in the cannabis industry
Opportunities to pivot into the cannabis industry are growing every day. As legalization progresses on the state and federal levels, the tips in this article serve as a great stepping stone into the space. If you’re ready to get involved, join us June 1 – 3, 2023 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City for the next CWCBExpo — it will be a cannabis trade show that’s not to be missed!