How to Get a Job in the Cannabis Industry

Catherine DeMuro / Jun 12, 2018
hero-graphic-How to Get a Job in the Cannabis Industry

Have you been wondering how to get job in the (awesome) cannabis industry? We'll break it down for you with tons of great tips and information!

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Vangst has been around since 2014 and we specialize in staffing and recruiting in the cannabis industry. What that means is we’ve helped companies across Canada, the U.S., and Puerto Rico find talent for a variety of positions. We’ve helped place everything from CEOs all the way down to grow assistants. Here we talk about how to get into the industry, different avenues in the industry, different career paths in the industry and what to expect.


  • What is an ancillary business versus a plant-touching business?
  • What is a MED badge, what is a dispensary agent card? Do I even need those where I currently am?
  • Types of plant-touching businesses
  • Different skill sets, what are most valuable for each role and each career path
  • Different avenues on how to break into the industry
  • Presenting yourself correctly – what’s the best way to build your personal brand to really stand out in a new industry?

Ancillary Companies

Ancillary companies can range anywhere from tech companies to services to products. Currently, we’re seeing tech as the fastest-growing sector on this side with everything from new POS systems customized for the industry popping up. Seed-to-sale platforms that are not only required federally, but also keep track of basically how much expenses are and really help drive the efficiency of the supply chain down to online ordering, so making it easier for customers to ultimately get product and really expand your brand.

Other services:

  • Marketing – how to brand a company, how to reach an end-user
  • Accounting – a niche service due to the unique rules around 280-E
  • Security – a major factor with many cultivation and extraction facilities

As for product, with everything from lights to greenhouses to batteries for vape pens, there’s a wide variety of outside industries that can help make the cannabis industry what it is today. This leads us into more of the plant-touching side.

Plant-Touching Businesses

  • Cultivation: the core of the industry. Includes outdoor grows, processing facilities, cloning, and more. Requires a wide variety of roles and skill sets.
  • MIPs (marijuana-infused products): edibles, tinctures, topicals, concentrates, many other products and techniques
  • Retail: dispensaries and other consumer-facing stores
  • Wholesale: With plant-touching businesses, some states do require what are called a MED badge, a marijuana enforcement division badge, or a dispensary agent card. Some states require your medical recommendation as a way to work in the industry.

Read How to Get a MED Badge in Colorado.

These aren’t required with the ancillary businesses, but they are very crucial when it comes to the plant-touching side.

Each state has their own nuance, so before looking into the industry or while looking into the industry, really dive in and make sure you have the right credentials before you apply to plant-touching businesses.

**Next up: career paths, salary ranges, what to expect and where you fit in the industry, skill sets, and more. ** Let’s start out with looking at the different plant-touching businesses.

Types of Cannabis Jobs and How Much They Pay

cultivation worker

Typical cultivation career path: People start with varied experience. Maybe some education in horticulture or botany, generally, they’ll start as a harvester or a trimmer, a real entry-level position with a pay range from $11-$16 an hour.

From there, when they do a good job and really understand the plant, they’ll move into a harvest manager position.

Harvest manager: This is the person that oversees the trim crew and some of the harvesters. Salary range around $50,000 to $60,000, and this person has a pretty substantial managerial background. They’ve led a team before or they have intimate knowledge on the process for the post-harvest, whether it’s taking down plants, wet or dry trimming, or, if you’re doing automated trimming, they understand the machines, how it works, and how much product they have to do to make it efficient for the company.

Next is grow help: Grow help is more the path to lead you to a head grower. These are people who do a lot of the manual labor around the farm, whether that’s up-potting, cloning, watering plants, doing nutrients, things along those lines. Hourly range between $15 to $18 an hour. Eventually these people will move up into the grow assistant role.

The **grow assistants **usually have a more educational background or they’ve been at the farm a while and really understand the growing style. So, if a grow specializes in growing cacao, this grow assistant will understand the medium, they’ll understand the nutrients that are required, and will have a really good understanding of the process of the farm and some managerial background.

That leads into that head grower. The head grower is the one that oversees the whole facility. They’re the one that really understands the plant, really understands how to keep it alive, how to keep pest management down, how to manage the team of grow assistants to really make an efficient farm, but also to make sure they produce a really, really high-quality product. We see this salary vary significantly.

The biggest differentiator between the different salaries is not only size, but type of grow. If you’re doing rockwool versus growing in coco, we see a difference and in addition to that, the amount of automation. With a lot of these automated grow systems moving into place, there is a higher level of knowledge needed to understand how it all plays together, really understand the data that it’s putting out to make that farm efficient.

Now, let’s transition into marijuana-infused products. That’s going to be more your concentrates and your edibles.

Let’s start out here with the concentrates. The three main positions we see on this side with your typical lab, whether it’s CO2, whether it’s chilled ethanol or a variety of different methods, hydrocarbons, so on and so forth.

What we’ll see is people start out at the extraction tech assistant. The main focus of this role is going to be preparing product for extraction, whether that’s filling tubes, whether that’s getting things into place, this is kind of that more manual-labor focused role, but really understand the intricacies involved with the extraction process.

Then we move up into the extraction tech. This is someone that knows more of the science behind it, maybe they have a formal education, a chemistry background, or they’ve worked in the lab before, so they have more of the knowledge than the extraction tech assistant and they can be trusted to run the machines — things along those lines.

cannabis oil production jars

Ultimately, that leads up to the lead extractor or the lab director. In this position, what we’ll see for salary range is right around that $85,000-plus and a lot of it depends on what the extraction technique is, the size of the lab, how much product they’re producing, all the way up to if this person is doing formulations and really experimenting with new products and coming up with revolutionary products.

From there, moving into more the edibles side. What we see over here is kind of a big difference between the two positions that we typically work on in the edible space.

First, we start with the packager. Packagers, they’ll also be in the concentrate side, they’ll sometimes be on the cultivation side, but they’re really prominent on the edibles side. This is the person that puts the product into their final packaging. They’ll put labels on it. Whether you’re making cookies or brownies, they’ll cut it up and they’ll get it prepared for shipping and finally selling the product on the shelves. More entry-level job, generally $10 to $15 an hour. Some benefits, some not benefits, it really depends on the company.

Then we see more the head chef. This role can vary greatly from companies that already have their own recipes, already have their own formulas and they’re just looking for somebody to consistently produce results.

You’ll see them more on that lower end of the spectrum, whereas if you are looking for whether it’s a chocolatier or a specialist candy-maker, their expertise might drive the salary a little higher, really depends on what type of product you’re producing and if you’re looking for somebody that can really invent new recipes and experiment and create new products.

Let’s jump into the retail side. This is going to be more your dispensaries, your delivery services, basically getting that product to your end-consumer.

What we see on the dispensary side is people generally start out at the budtender level. This is where they really learn the products, they really get an understanding of what the consumer wants, and more or less, it’s like that retail position. Salary ranges from $11 to $15 an hour.

dispensary employees working

Moving on up, the next level is an** assistant manager** position. This person oversees some of the budtenders. If there’s a problem in the store, they can answer questions and act as a resource. The pay there is a little better, range from $12-$17 an hour, sometimes tips are included in these two positions, sometimes they’re not.

Moving to the senior level, you’ll see a general manager position. General managers’ salaries range anywhere from $50,0000 to $90,000. This person’s responsibility is more or less to run the store. Whether that is doing the social media, a lot of the marketing, setting schedules, they’re the go-to person for this dispensary.

Finally, we have the director of retail. This is the next level. In some states, you’re able to have multiple dispensaries and the director of retail oversees all of those. This gets more into the executive side, more running the operations of moving around product, really understanding which stores are succeeding, which ones are not, and it is that higher-level, more operations type position.

From there, we see a lot of logistical-type positions. Everything from delivery drivers to security guards. Delivery drivers are very prominent in states that allow delivery. Their pay ranges between $10 and $19 an hour. With these roles, tips are almost always included in their pay.

Also, security guards. Security guards can work at a dispensary, cultivation facility, headquarters, etc. Their pay depends on their background and where you’re having them secure.

Now that you know a little bit more about plant-touching side of the business and several different career paths there, let’s talk about how to get into the industry.

Tips for Getting Into the Cannabis Industry

Maybe you’re coming from a traditional, more corporate background and are looking to get into a startup industry.

Starting out, the first thing is to be visible. There are events going on all the time. There are fun events, business networking events, marketing-focused events, trade shows, and more.

man writing paper pen

You name it, and the cannabis industry definitely has it. When you’re first trying to get in, really establish what side of the industry you want to be on. Therefore, if you’re looking to get a career path in the cultivation side, look into where the cultivators are at. Are they at growing trade shows?

For example, there’s an event here in Denver, Colorado called The Grow-Off where companies compete in growing. Everybody gets a clone from the same plant and then from there, they compete with their own growing style to see who can produce the best yield, terpene profile, and potency. That would be an example of a good event where you’ll meet a lot of cultivators and really get your face out there.

cannabis greenhouse

With that being said, understand that there are a lot of people who want to get into this industry. Whenever we put a job posting out, we see upwards of 100 or 200 people apply for these positions just because they’re looking to get into the cannabis industry. Instead of just blanket-emailing hiring managers, it makes a lot more sense to make yourself known whether you show up in person or otherwise.

In first checking out the industry, probably one of the more prominent things you’ll notice is the difference in culture versus traditional big corporations or traditional industries. The fact that the industry comes from a counterculture background and now has a bunch of startup companies in a startup industry, it really has a fun, energetic, little more laid-back vibe than typical industries.

There are a lot of companies that kind of fill in the spectrum all across the board, and so, when evaluating companies and different aspects of the industry, you really have to decide what type of culture you thrive in, which is where you really optimize your skill set.

When we look into that, whether it’s pharmaceutical-type company that’s really stringent in everything they do all the way down to more of those counterculture type of companies – you have to really focus on where you think you’ll fit in and what background makes the most sense for you.

Finally, to the question everybody’s been asking or waiting for is, how do I break into the industry?

Let’s say I want to be a lead cultivator someday, where do I start? Step one is getting the proper education. Whether you want to get into extraction, marketing, accounting, or sales, make sure you have the formal skill set and expertise in that area.

From there, it’s like in any other industry or any other job. You have to make yourself visible and stand out from the pack. Attend events, go above and beyond with different educational topics and really work on expanding your skill set, figure out which companies you really like and would love to work for. From there, find out who their decision-maker is and continuously let them know that you think you’d be a good fit for that position.

With a little tenacity and good skill set in your background, you should have no problem getting into the industry.

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