Few industries worldwide are growing as quickly as the cannabis industry. The cannabis industry is projected to generate 108,000 additional jobs nationally in 2023, according to a study by CannaBiz Team. If so, that would bring the total number of cannabis jobs in the U.S. to more than half a million, up from the more than 428,000 jobs tallied by Leafly in 2022. And with plenty more states coming online, that number is predicted to grow by leaps and bounds. There is a difference between a job and a career.
If you want to get involved in the cannabis industry for the long term, there are some steps you could take before jumping in with both feet.
Landing a job vs. building a career in cannabis
It’s important to understand the distinction between getting hired for an open position and building a career. While building a career often starts with landing a job, it’s a more involved and dedicated journey that involves significant personal and professional growth over time. Every career looks different. A career may involve dozens of jobs with multiple companies or it may involve launching and building a business from the ground up. However, one thing is true for all careers: they’re built over time, step by step, and involve just as much effort off the clock as they do during the workday.
In cannabis, the industry is currently being built from the ground up, with many more markets likely to come online in the near future. That means even landing an entry-level job working as an associate in a dispensary (sometimes called a “budtender”) can be the first building block in an illustrious career. Of course, to turn any opportunity into even greater opportunities, you need to ensure you’re constantly growing in your knowledge and skills, putting yourself on track to become a leader in your niche.
To learn more about how to carve out a career in cannabis, we spoke with Karen “KMesh” Meshkov, partner at FlowerHire Senior Advisors, a firm that specializes in strategic talent acquisition and HR advisory for legal cannabis businesses. Meshkov is also the founder of KMesh Cann, a consulting agency that helps executives and leaders transition into the legal cannabis space.
How to build a cannabis career
If a career in cannabis sounds appealing to you, it’s worth doing a bit of planning and some homework to find your niche first. The cannabis industry involves a wide range of business types, so whatever your background and skill-set, there’s likely a way for you to get involved.
“When I think about cannabis and the incredible opportunity –economists think it can support 1.7 million jobs nationally –the industry needs people with that leadership mindset, and that’s what it takes to build a career in this space,” Meshkov said. The following are some preliminary steps to take that can help you get your cannabis career started on the right foot.
1. Educate yourself on the cannabis industry
Before you can get involved in the cannabis industry, you need to know what you’re talking about. Cannabis is a complicated and ever-evolving space, so your first step on your cannabis journey should be gathering information and following reliable sources.
“It starts with being educated,” Meshkov said. “That includes not only the rules and regs for the local market you’re in, but also the parlance, vocabulary, and culture of your respective state.”
The best way to do that, Meshkov said, is to immerse yourself in the local space by following thought leaders online, attending industry events, and keeping up with the latest news.
2. Consider your transferrable skills
Once you know a bit about the cannabis industry and the types of opportunities that interest you, engage in a bit of self-reflection about your existing skills and experience and how they might translate into cannabis. For example, if you’ve spent years as a digital marketer, your knowledge is helpful to growing cannabis businesses trying to establish their brand and reach their audience. You don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel; you might already have what it takes to bring value to a cannabis company.
“[Consider] the ancillary and non-plant-touching businesses that support licensed operators, and the jobs in advocacy and non-profit to support workforce development and public-private organizations needed to build the industry at scale,” she added. “I encourage people to think about what those job opportunities are, what their transferable skills are, and what that job looks like next year, in three years, and in five years.”
3. Establish your online presence
Promoting yourself online can go a long way to making the initial connections you need in cannabis. Following and engaging with cannabis industry accounts that are relevant to your market and sector and help you learn more about the space you’re trying to break into, as well as get your name and face out there.
“In my experience, the way most people find their jobs is through networking and having a strong social presence,” Meshkov said. “A strong LinkedIn profile is where you can demonstrate to the community at large that you’re following and engaged with cannabis.”
4. Find face-to-face networking opportunities
While establishing an online presence is helpful, the real connections will be made in the real world, face to face. Social media and online job applications are all well and good, but you can learn a lot more and get a lot further by getting away from your desk and hitting the pavement, Meshkov said.
“When you’re applying for jobs posted online, there might be 100 other jobs behind that which aren’t posted,” Meshkov said. “If you go to an event and meet the HR director, you’ll learn about those other jobs.
“There’s also another critical piece about this,” Meshkov added. “Online responses to job listings in the cannabis industry are outrageously high. That’s why making that personal connection and building that relationship [is so important].”
5. Don’t be afraid to take new jobs
In some industries, job hopping is seen as a negative, but in cannabis it’s commonplace and even expected. In an environment of such rapid growth and constant change, Meshkov said it’s not unusual to see company leadership with a tenure of less than 2 years before changing companies. Don’t be afraid to take new opportunities if you find one that suits you after you break into the industry.
“The average tenure for a six figure executive is about 18 months or so,” she said. “There are certainly some people that are beyond that… but it’s very common to see one year or six month stints with a company. We talk about candidates being scrappy and flexible, rolling with the punches of this industry, knowing it’s ever changing and being able to pivot.”
Tips on how to stand out from other candidates
Of course, you can’t build a career in cannabis if you can’t land that first job in the industry. If you’re looking to break into the cannabis space, you need to stand out from the thousands of other candidates that are applying. You can take the following steps today to start improving your practical knowledge of the cannabis industry in your state to wow hiring managers when you come in for an interview.
1. Start following prominent industry media and blogs
If you brush up on industry trends and developments daily, you’ll quickly build up a robust body of knowledge about the space. Being able to speak fluently about a wide range of topics in cannabis –some of which can be rather complex –will set you apart from candidates that only have a surface level understanding of what it’s actually like to operate in the industry.
Meshkov recommended bookmarking resources like Ganjapreneur and New Cannabis Ventures to learn about the industry. Over time, she said, you should tailor your regular reading, listening, and viewing to resources that cover your niche particularly well.
“The best resources are a bit different depending on what level of professional you are. For example, an executive’s reading list is a bit different than a budtender’s,” she said.
Still, consistently educating yourself and keeping up with industry news is a must-do for anyone looking to forge a career in cannabis.
“Come to the space with knowledge and informed opinions,” Meshkov said. “That separates you… as a leader who has taken the time and is self-informed and self-starting.”
2. Join a local networking group
Becoming a member of a local networking group or trade association avails you of the chance to meet other professionals and entrepreneurs operating in the industry. If you make the rounds frequently, you’ll get to know familiar faces and start building relationships organically. Soon enough, opportunities to work with others will begin to surface.
“Connect with people in the industry and be a helpful, supportive, contributing member of the community,” Meshkov said. “Through that process, people find their way.”
3. Get on LinkedIn
Social media is an important way to develop and promote your personal brand, and in cannabis LinkedIn is a particular hotbed of activity. Meshkov recommended establishing a presence on LinkedIn and making it clear you’re part of the cannabis industry by following relevant pages, sharing cannabis-related content, and engaging with other people in comments sections and groups.
“Send connection requests to people in your local market,” she said. “Follow those media sources you’ve already subscribed to.”
While the face-to-face aspect of networking is critical in the cannabis industry, staying top of mind in a digital space can be effective as well.
4. Subscribe to job boards
While applying to jobs online has its limitations, it’s also a great way to get an idea of what cannabis companies are looking for in candidates. Subscribe to multiple job boards, especially those dedicated to the cannabis industry. Keep track of the types of jobs you’re seeing and the qualifications associated with them. Use this info to hone and expand your skills accordingly.
“Go onto the LinkedIn job board, Indeed, or careersincannabis.com,” Meshkov said. “See what’s there. What are the options? What interests you? This is an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity for people to get into a brand new burgeoning industry with more jobs and career paths than there are people to fill them.”
5.Follow your local regulatory authorities
Regulators are important in any industry, but especially in cannabis. As the cannabis industry continues to emerge from an era of prohibition, state authorities tightly control what can and cannot happen in each market. Because there is no federal standard governing the cannabis industry, every state can have vastly different rules. Be sure you know the regulations that impact your space in your state inside and out.
“Figure out who your regulatory body is in the state you live in and subscribe to their newsletters and follow them on social media,” Meshkov said. “In New York, it is the Office of Cannabis Management and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York.”
Turn a cannabis job into a career
Every career starts somewhere. Whether you’re looking to transfer your existing skills into the cannabis industry, launch your own business, or simply make a big change with an entry level job, each of these steps can be the foundation of your career. If you follow the tips above, though, you will not only be able to stand out from other candidates pursuing jobs in cannabis, but flourish into a well-rounded industry expert with the skills needed to become a leader.
“No one has missed the boat, but be careful, bring a life jacket, and have some people to row with,” Meshkov said. “We’re talking about a projected $5 billion industry in New York by 2027. We’re looking at a green wave here that’s just started on the east coast with massive repercussions for job creation and tax revenue.”
When building your cannabis career, it helps to be informed and connected, and there’s no better place to do so than at CWCBExpo. At our annual trade show in New York City, you’ll rub elbows with some of the pioneers in east coast cannabis and learn from some of the most inspiring names in the game. See firsthand what it takes to start building bridges to success at the next CWCBExpo trade show and exhibition, June 1 -3, 2023 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.