How to Land a Cannabis Job in an Emerging Market
Editor's note: This story was updated on April 20, 2022.
Even though cannabis remains illegal in the US at the Federal level, we’ve seen a wave of legalization sweeping US states and regions, picking up in both pace and popularity since 2016. Staying up to date with state-specific cannabis market regulations can be overwhelming, but is crucial in understanding their impacts on both the job market and for consumers.
Cannabis in some form (even if just the non-high-inducing component CBD) is legal now in 48 states with Idaho and Nebraska the only outliers. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult-use cannabis, while 37 states Guam, and D.C. have legalized the use of cannabis for at the very least medical purposes.
Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and Wyoming all appear ready to legalize medical marijuana this year based on ballot initiatives and proposed legislation.
Resources such as Vangst’s industry by state tool are incredibly helpful for knowing exactly what’s happening in your desired market as a consumer, or a professional looking to enter the industry.
So, what does it mean for a state or district to “go legal?”
How these laws come to pass varies from state to state, but for the most basic reminder of the political process, I’ll always remind people of the classic Schoolhouse Rock video, I’m Just a Bill. Of course since we’re talking about state-specific legislation, we’re talking about State Congress and Senates following the same bill-to-law pathways.
When it comes to cannabis legalization, there are generally three umbrella categories, each with their own laws, processes, products and retail:
- Hemp-derived (often CBD-only, always low-to-no THC) | Fastest to launch and least regulated
- Medical cannabis | Most restrictive and low-to-no taxes
- Adult-use cannabis | Most competitive
Where the standard legislative process ends, newly-formed cannabis regulatory bodies step in to create rules, regulations and licensing processes. Legislative mandates will often dictate timelines for this body’s work, and for when applications and licenses should become available, and in turn, when retail products will be on shelves.
Things that legislative mandates can legalize immediately:
- Home cultivation
- Public consumption
- Potency caps on THC and other cannabinoids
- The formation of a tax and regulate system
The purpose of the regulatory body is then to develop the rules and regulations that govern the operation of commercial cannabis operations: cultivation, product manufacturing, lab testing, retail, delivery, and consumption.
How do market changes affect job trends?
Wondering how a state could “go legal” with a new cannabis market, but still not have an operational system in place? You’ve probably heard something along the lines of “my state legalized weed, but there’s nowhere to get it!”
In the first half of 2021 New York and New Mexico “legalized” adult-use cannabis, however “legal” adult-use did not start until very recently this year, 2022. These states spent a good chunk of time through their regulatory bodies setting those tax and systems up for success.
As you might imagine, there are a limited number of jobs at this stage as business plans are developed alongside the rules and regulations that will govern them. Only the early-to-act (and often well-funded) founders and businesses are ready to go as soon as a state “legalizes.” While some organizations might lobby and engage with legalization efforts early on, others sit back and wait for a green light to avoid costly delays and pivots.
At this stage of a new cannabis market, most hiring managers are looking for two things: translatable experience in launching a business or brand, or someone who is particularly familiar and connected to the region. But as those early actors grow and scale and additional businesses are founded, more jobs become available, creating more opportunity, but also more competition with candidates who got that early experience.
If cities like Los Angeles have taught us anything though in almost FIVE years of legalized adult-use cannabis, it’s that cannabis market trends are subject to change over time. Whether it’s the consolidation of brands and businesses or the launching of new inventive concepts from consumption lounges to cannabis museums, there are always new jobs for interested professionals, and experiences for intrigued consumers. If you’re in a state that’s just in these early stages, I HIGHly recommend this read on landing a job in new emerging cannabis markets from Vangst.
How do market changes affect the cannabis consumer?
My personal professional approach to marketing is always consumer-first. From landscape analyses to personal development, I’m looking at why a customer wants to use cannabis, and how to make them feel comfortable buying and consuming it. The brands that I work with are committed to peeling away the layers of stigma, replacing stereotypes with better understanding, and advocating for social justice.
Unfortunately, it can be a bumpy road from new cannabis market to established with full brand saturation.
After all of the work that goes into promoting cannabis legalization efforts and normalizing its sale and use, customers are often confused as to why they can’t find stores or products anywhere. The resulting disappointment is a difficult hurdle for people who might just be coming out of their cannabis closets or considering leaving their legacy markets behind for the legalized one.
Again, as a marketer, this is where I remind us all that as cannabis professionals, we have to put the customers first, and bring them along on the journey while setting realistic expectations.
As brands and businesses open, and niche audiences develop, the customer landscape goes through many nuanced phases. From the “tax it and they will come” customers who were formerly opposed to buying or consuming something “illegal,” to the cannasseurs looking for the best and the highest, it’s worth every professional’s time to monitor these phases closely.
It takes years for a market to reach saturation. Brands come and go, they merge and acquire, and once-loyal customers move with the changing tides. The good news is, if you’re reading this now, and have gotten this far, you’re one step closer to making a real impact in the cannabis industry, and new cannabis markets.
Join us in the Vangst Community forums to discuss trends at a state-by-state level, and to connect with professionals from across the United States.
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