How to Get a Job in the Cannabis Industry Without Direct Experience

Getting a job in the emerging cannabis industry can be difficult given that most applicants do not have direct work experience with marijuana. While it can make the process of finding a job more difficult, it’s important to remember that most applicants are in the same boat. Because hiring managers are aware that their relatively young industry lacks candidates with direct experience, they often look at other factors when making their decisions.

Background Checks

First and foremost, applicants need to be in good standing with the law. This is an absolute must. Unfortunately for those who may have made some mistakes earlier in their lives, the cannabis business is relatively unforgiving when it comes to criminal records. While I’m sure that some employers would be willing to give their employees a second chance, there are two major factors preventing that. 

First, many state regulators set these requirements and it is not up to the discretion of the business. Because of marijuana’s federal status (still illegal, unfortunately), states have adopted strict laws about who is eligible to work in these facilities. 

Second, optics are important. While the stigma around cannabis is steadily fading, there is still a lot of scrutiny on these businesses. In many cases, they are subject to the local regulations of the municipality in which they’re located. If there is even a semblance of impropriety, a local town council may impose restrictions that cause massive headaches for cannabis business owners. For that reason, many of them decide that they would rather be safe than sorry. 

Education

The amount of education required for cannabis jobs varies depending on the position, but having at least a college degree is a huge help. Putting aside some of the more advanced functions in the cannabis industry with obvious need for advanced degrees – lab technicians, master growers, compliance & regulatory counsel, etc. – even the lower level jobs require college degrees in many cases. While it is very unlikely that your college coursework directly relates to an entry level job in the cannabis industry, businesses usually require them anyway.

The main reason is because the supply of potential employees still exceeds job demand. Yes, this is one of, if not the fastest growing industries in the country, but because the federal government hasn’t legalized cannabis and state licenses are limited, businesses cannot open quickly enough to meet the supply of cannabis job seekers. As a result, the businesses are able to be quite selective when hiring. One of the ways they screen out applicants is by separating those with college degrees from those without. Objectively, this is a very arbitrary threshold. But the hiring managers would tell you that a college degree is a proxy for responsibility. As a result, having one will greatly improve your chances of getting a cannabis industry job.

If you do not have a college degree, you can enroll in one of the many cannabis schools that are popping up all over the country. While they do not offer 4 year bachelors’ programs in the traditional sense, they do offer highly relevant cannabis business education.

Relevant Work Experience

There are very few applicants with experience in the marijuana sector applying for open positions. That being said, there are some industries that translate well to working in the cannabis industry.

Retail. Dispensary jobs can be described as marijuana retail. The only difference between working in a department store and a dispensary is the product you are selling. Customer interactions, inventory management, and product knowledge are foundational no matter the setting. If you have previous retail experience, be sure to highlight it. 

Hospitality. Customer facing positions in the cannabis industry draw on the same skills as one would learn through work in the hospitality sector. For budtenders specifically, listening to the needs of patients and helping them figure out the best intervention is crucial. Active listening, customer service, and empathy are all fostered in the hospitality sector. 

Facilities Management. The cultivation and sale of marrijuana requires the upkeep of green houses, laboratories, office and retail buildings. The acquisition and maintenance of those facilities is a critical part of the business. This includes realtors, construction workers, security, building managers, and custodians. These positions are more likely to be available in areas where the cannabis industry is going through an expansion or with companies who are investing in new properties. If you have facilities management experience, it can be an excellent way to get in on the ground floor with a growing company.

Business Development. About 60% of all open positions in the cannabis industry exist in all other industries as well. No matter the business, personnel are needed for marketing, accounting, HR, IT, sales, and more. Even if you have not been involved in a marijuana business, chances are you have expertise in functions that are useful to a cannabis business owner. 

Conclusion

In a new industry, almost no one has direct experience and companies are aware of that. While they do not expect every applicant to have worked with cannabis, they will look for the perspective employees who can show transferable skills. By highlighting your education and work experience that relates to the position, you can set yourself apart from the other applicants.