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My Cannabis Story: Career Change & Entering the cannabis industry

Thinking about joining the Cannabis Industry? You shouldn’t be surprised to find out that entering the Cannabis Industry is no easy task. Never mind your experience in your previous industry. Leaping from one industry to another takes “balls” and persistence. In my experience, “leaping” from the retail/restaurant industry and joining the cannabis industry has been a roller coaster of slammed doors, employment leads that “died on the vine” after hearing “no cannabis specific experience”, and potential opportunities that either got shelved, or did not align with my own cultural and ethical values.

As operators and executives from existing legal businesses begin to take the “leap” into the emerging legal cannabis industry, here are some obstacles I have run into and that I’d like to share with others and some advice based on my experience.

prepared and knowledgeable
Photo by Andrew Neel

Be Prepared and knowledgeable

Having spent the better part of the last seven years studying cannabis, beginning with;

  1. Demonization and prohibition of the cannabis plant in the 1930’s,
  2. Scientific discoveries of Dr. Raphael Mecheloum and his team in the 1960’s,
  3. Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in the1980’s
  4. The 1990’s brought “medical marijuana use” to the mainstream where cannabis began to be acceptable in society
  5. January 1, 2018, where recreational use is now legal in California, not to mention legislation is sweeping the country.

Keep in mind, I’m reading scientific discoveries, historic pieces, and journals, not “Cheech & Chong’s thesis on weed, man”.


Black and white reflection photo
Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin

Reality Check

For someone who has been immersed in all this information, cannabis and legalization seems normal and OK to talk about and be associated with especially because of all the scientific data surrounding this magical plant.

Whoever doesn’t know about or support this medical gift from God can now instantly access verifiable and factual information that is available with a quick Google search.

Although, major companies outside of the space are just starting to catch up with the science. Some organizations support it or are ok with it but, are not hiring people with any sort of cannabis business information in their resumes or on their social media. This experience has really been an eye-opener when browsing job openings in my old industry. I’ve even had interviews calendared with corporate leaders from my past industry only to have received emails a day prior to the interview, “thank you for your interest in XYZ, however for reason XYZ we will be exploring other options”… It has been a trip.

know your value
Photo by Aziz Acharki

Knowing Your Value

Navigating through the newly legalized industry that is cannabis, I am met with “you don’t have much cannabis specific experience so spend a few years as a budtender and we’ll talk”…

It’s can really blow your mind and ego because someone like me, having thirty years of retail restaurant operations leadership under my belt, am skilled at executing all of the legal business operating laws and practices that all other legally operating businesses are already familiar with.

  • wage and hour laws
  • harassment and civil rights laws
  • As well as operational with OSHA:
  • storage and inventory
  • workplace safety and security processes

Just to name a few.

And then there are the environmental and agricultural pieces to the puzzle not to mention SOPs and Staff training that always seems to be swept under the rug. Legal business laws and compliances are no joke.

In my opinion, there is a severe disconnect between the leaders in the cannabis industry or those entering the cannabis industry and the ability to recognize the parallels between legal cannabis business operations and other existing businesses.

Enlighten The Leadership On Their Weakness and How You Can Help/////[“P

The requirements and practices “handed down” by the Bureau of Cannabis Control are not new, they’re just new to the cannabis industry. After all, the majority of the cannabis industry has been operating underground with no real “supervision” from government agencies for almost ninety years. This is what legal business implementation (all at once) looks like, friends.

The cannabis industry, overall, is a small “tight-knit” group, loyal to their “cohorts and comrades”, I respect that and that’s another reason why I jumped in with both feet. The loyalty and respect the industry has for each other are the foundational building blocks for success.

broken glass
Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi

Know Your Weaknesses When Entering the Cannabis Industry

Having attended many BCC meetings and operational tours throughout Northern California, what I am seeing are small business owners and operators trying to navigate through an established set of guidelines that have already been in existence in other industries. The legal terms of the proposed regulations issued by the BCC have already been translated into “laymen’s” terms and are in existence throughout other legally operating businesses.

The smart thing to do is to hire someone to help stabilize your operations. You wouldn’t hire an HVAC guy to perform a filling on a cavity, would you? The same concept applies here, hire people with legal business expertise and experience to help you stabilize your company and keep you out of legal entanglements.

The product specific information (cultivating, handling) can be taught to people but, trying to teach an entire industry, all of the employment laws, behaviors, practices and, a whole host of other requirements demanded by the legal system historically results in costly legal, operational and, brand killing battles.

What I’ve noticed is that the medium to small legal cannabis business operators are not making the connection that their best bet for early and the least costly success is to hire outside operators from similar industries (retail/restaurant) and let them draw operational roadmaps to success.

Most of these practices are already instilled in a seasoned leader from the retail restaurant industry. Hire the right one and follow that their lead.

man wearing mask ego
Photo by Sergio Alejandro Ortiz

Male Dominated, Ego Driven Industries

I’ve noticed the pride in the strains that individuals are producing and it is reminiscent of the culinary world and how Chef’s feel about their food. Gordon Ramsey himself, could walk into any chefs kitchen and critique any course providing advice for that chef’s growth and, that chef would say “fuck him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about”. It used to make me laugh, it still does, and I see the similarities in both the culinary world and the legal cannabis world. Ego’s will bottom you out, guys.

“Don’t Hire People and Tell Them What To Do, Hire People So They Can Tell You What To Do” – Steve Jobs.

You’ve got to build a trusting name for yourself, have at least 6-8 months of savings so you can ride out the wave of trying to find your niche, going through the processes. If you are wondering whether or not to take the leap let me leave you with this. If you do, be prepared to not look back because once you are associated with the cannabis industry, you ARE associated with the cannabis industry and as I’ve learned, not everyone is as supportive of this emerging enterprise.

Good luck out there!