Posted by Kelsea Appelbaum and Dena Gellmann / Jan 20, 2021

How to Land a Cannabis Job in an Emerging Market

Job creation is expected to grow as more and more states legalize medical and adult-use cannabis. In New Jersey alone, having just legalized in 2020, the state is projected to provide more than 20,000 cannabis jobs over the next five years.

If you’re a job seeker in a state that has recently legalized cannabis or appears primed to legalize in an upcoming election cycle, what can you do to prepare to meet the oncoming waves of job postings?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. On top of offering free networking services (you can create a profile here), Vangst's team of expert talent managers are here to share advice on every phase of the hiring process. Follow along to get started on your next cannabis career move.

Know the Legalization Status and Cannabis Work Requirements of your State

When it comes to identifying work opportunities, start by looking up the legalization status of cannabis in your state, it may be:

  • Illegal - unlawful to possess or consume cannabis with the exception of a few CBD and hemp products
  • Decriminalized - under the law, no arrests, criminal records, or prison sentencing for the first-time possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal consumption
  • Legal for medical use - legalized but only to qualifying medical patients with a prescription from a physician
  • Legal for adult use/recreational use - also considered “full” legalization, cannabis activity is no longer a crime and the plant is treated as a regulated, commercial product

Going a layer deeper, there are often state-specific restrictions on who is able to work in the cannabis industry - especially if you’re going to be in a role that involves direct contact with cannabis products. In order to be eligible for work, you may need to apply for and acquire a license (for example, Colorado’s MED Badge) as well as pass a background check that may include a criminal background history, fingerprinting, a driving records check, or more.

If you want to learn the legalization status of cannabis and the work requirements for your state, Vangst’s Industry Requirements by State tool provides the information you need to get started. If you need additional resources, seek out your state or city’s .gov page as well as reference content from credible cannabis legal services.

Understand the Verticals Within the Industry to Find Your Fit

With the rapid maturation of emerging markets coming online it’s not enough to know you want a cannabis job, you’ll also need to narrow down your search to hone in on the sectors, commonly known as verticals, that fit your skill set. Cannabis businesses fall into two major categories: plant-touching and ancillary.

Plant-Touching Verticals

"Plant-touching" quite literally means your job requires that you touch cannabis or infused products. While the list of plant-touching occupations is vast, these are a few common examples:

  • Cultivation - sites such as outdoor grows, greenhouses, and processing facilities where the plant is grown to maturation and/or prepped for processing
  • Lab and Extraction - facilities where cannabis plant material is tested for potential contaminants and can be made into concentrates, edibles, topicals, and other forms of consumption
  • Manufacturing - facilities where packagers accurately weigh out and label cannabis
  • Retail - dispensaries and other consumer-facing stores
  • Delivery - for companies with delivery services in their supply chain, products are warehoused until they’re needed for on-demand, pre-scheduled, and subscription box deliveries

Keep in mind that in some states where vertical integration is allowed, companies may provide jobs that touch the plant every step of the way from seed to sale (for example: Green Thumb Industries, Cresco Labs, and Native Roots).

Ancillary Businesses

Ancillary companies are companies that provide necessary support to plant-touching verticals, they range anywhere from software companies and security systems to legal services and marketing/PR agencies.

Follow Market News in Your State

If you’re trying to forecast your job search in an emerging market, it helps to be a student of the game and track cannabis news sources. For instance, you’ll want to keep tabs on the number of business licenses your state plans to issue and which companies have inroads on those licenses. Research the current landscape as much as you can both from a national perspective (ex. MJBizDaily, New Frontier Data, Business Insider, and Marijuana Moment) and regionally (ex. NJ Cannabis Insider or Cannabis News Florida). Find resources from trade organizations like NCIA and be sure to register for Vangst’s summit series and career fair schedule for virtual events covering your state.

Lay the Groundwork for Your Job Network

“It’s who you know” is a common phrase in hiring for a reason, so as the cannabis marketplace rolls out, expect your personal network to grow with it. There countless strategies for making the right connections within the industry - here’s a few of the best cannabis networking tips collected by our Lead Talent Manager Spencer Peters.

Instead of just blanket-emailing hiring managers, it makes a lot more sense to make yourself known. Build your brand, network your butt off, and be ready to hit the ground running. And, for the love of all that is holy, keep it professional on your social media accounts.

Prepare Your Job Application Materials

While you can’t control the speed or effectiveness of your state’s cannabis program, you can take the time to sharpen your skills and make sure you are thoroughly prepared to nail your next interview. Get your resume and online profiles ready, even if you don’t have prior experience in cannabis, there are many transferable skills that are highly valuable to industry hiring teams.

Be hyper-knowledgeable about the plant and what’s required with your desired role. Have an answer for “what is your personal relationship to cannabis,” -- you don’t have to be a daily consumer by any means, your story can even just relate to the positive impacts you’ve seen. Let your eagerness shine through and speak like someone who’s truly invested in the future of the cannabis industry.

Have Patience

While this can be a hard pill to swallow - especially with the “green rush” mentality that surrounds cannabis - expect delays in the rollout of your state’s cannabis programs. Legalization is not like flipping a switch, state regulations need to be ironed out as well as a laundry list of details on licensing. No two states have the same approach and, of course, politics are involved, which can be frustrating for a job seeker. The best you can do is stay the course, upgrade your materials, and be the best candidate and champion for cannabis you can be.

Want to find cannabis professionals in your state? Join the Vangst Network and start building your own professional cannabis community.

Kelsea Appelbaum is a Senior Talent Manager and Dena Gellmann is a Senior Account Executive at Vangst.

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