Have you found yourself wondering if a job in cannabis could be the dream career you’ve always hoped for? Or maybe it would just relieve the stress of the ever-looming drug test at your current position?

With the boom of the cannabis industry in the US over the last few years, a LOT of people are taking the time and energy to check out jobs in dispensaries, infusion kitchens, cultivations, testing labs, and more.

But, if you spend more than a week or two trying for one of those jobs, you’ll quickly realize it’s HARD to get in with cannabis brands and it can seem like the only way is to pay a bunch of money to get into the right rooms and hopefully get noticed.

At Mantis Careers, every time we place a job listing with a cannabis brand, we get hundreds of applications. As we go through our screening and sorting process, it usually becomes quite apparent that most of the applicants have never worked in cannabis before and have a pretty lofty view of what a job in cannabis might be like. 

This guide is our response to the many many people we talk to daily that say, “Oh, it would be SO FUN to work in cannabis!”

Is Cannabis Right for You?

The first part of this equation is you.  There are a few questions you should ask and answer for yourself before you decide to put in the time and effort to get a job or build a career in cannabis.  

Is cannabis a part of your life?  Do you actually use cannabis on a regular basis or did you just try it that one time in college and not inhale?  You don’t have to use cannabis to get a job in cannabis, but the people who are most connected with the best brands often have a personal relationship with cannabis or they have loved ones who use it regularly.  If you don’t, it might be harder to stick it out when some of the things we’ll talk about soon start coming up.

Do you like cannabis in your life? If you do use cannabis, or have a loved one who uses cannabis, how do you REALLY feel about it? Do you think it’s a life saver or a life drainer? Has it been helpful or useful in your life or do you feel it dragged you or someone else down or held them back? Take a moment to evaluate how you feel about the plant, because if you have stigmatized yourself or others, it may be hard for you to work in the field with people who need it every day.

What do you believe about cannabis use and its role in people’s lives? This question is similar to the previous, but takes things a bit deeper and wider. What have you done to learn more about cannabis –  it’s various use and applications, the ways people are using it both positive and negative, the ways the government is using it? Have you taken the time to look into the legal ramifications of our current system? How do you feel about people in prison for cannabis offenses? How do you feel about people who consume far more than you do? You don’t have to have answers to all of this right now, but if you’re really considering a job or career in cannabis, these are topics you’ll want to dig in to first so you can get a clear picture of the realities vs. the reefer madness we’ve been inundated with for 70+ years.

What are the consequences or potential consequences you currently face for your cannabis use or involvement? There are a lot of people still hiding in the “Green Closet” for a variety of reasons. Perhaps your current job has a drug free workplace/zero tolerance policy or maybe your spouse still believes the reefer madness hype.  If you find that you have a lot of potential consequences for your cannabis use, you’ll need to consider how you’ll deal with each of those if you get a job in cannabis. On the other side of that coin, perhaps building a career in cannabis could relieve some of those possible consequences you live under now?

How flexible are you on pay, hours, and job duties? We often hear people talk about getting a cannabis job to “fill in” around their other jobs or responsibilities.  While that may work well with temp positions in cannabis, it will rarely work if you’re looking to build a career or have a long-lasting job in the field.  The cannabis industry is still in its infancy and that means the best people on most teams are the ones that are flexible, humble, and willing to work extra hard with little to no outside validation.  If you need your pay to be at a certain level right away or you need to get the job right away to pay bills or you only have a certain 12 hours/week to dedicate to a job in cannabis, this might not be the right place for you.  Uber and Doordash are perfect for those “quick money on your schedule” needs, but the cannabis industry just isn’t there yet.

How open are you to relocating? If you’ve gone through all the previous questions and you still think a cannabis career is right for you, have you considered relocation?  It’s possible that you won’t find the exact role that matches your experience in your local cannabis market. Fortunately, 33 states now have some form of legalized cannabis, so there are likely positions that match somewhere.  How wide are you willing to open your search and how much time and effort can you put into finding the perfect fit?

How important are benefits to you? If getting insurance and paid time off is your most important reason for having a job, cannabis may not be for you.  Yes, some companies are offering great benefits for their employees, but many don’t. In fact, some people are still getting late paychecks or finding doors locked when they try to come to work one day in this volatile market.  But it’s not even the market volatility that’s the kicker here. It’s the federal prohibition and how it affects employment status, insurance markets, banking, housing, and so much more beyond what state laws can rectify right now.  That means, as soon as you have a job for a federally illegal cannabis brand, you could find yourself at risk of losing benefits you thought you had rightful access to. 

Are you doing it for the money? I suppose we always do a job for the money, right? But in this day and age, everyone is talking about “The Green Rush” and people often perceive marijuana as a gold mine of cash for anyone who can get close enough.  Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. While the market has been growing steadily with more and more states passing laws to legalize, it’s still just a business and the best ones are looking to keep their margins tight and pay fair market wages. Some of them even pay below market wages because they know there are 250 other people with the same qualifications you have just waiting for their shot at a job in cannabis. Some brands are okay with using turnover as their recruitment strategy. There isn’t some giant pool of $200K/year jobs sitting around in cannabis just waiting for you to slide in and take over. But, if you have the funds, time, flexibility, and connections, you might be able to work your way into one.

So, now that you’ve evaluated your personal readiness for a cannabis job, let’s talk about what those jobs really look like.

The truth about cannabis jobs:

It’s not a big free smoke sesh at work everyday. People sometimes romanticize what a cannabis job might look like. Unlimited free weed and smoking all day everyday, right??? Wrong. Does Apple give their employees unlimited free Apple products? No. Of course not. It’s their product. Do they let their employees hang out playing on iPads all day? Also, no. They have jobs to accomplish. What cannabis jobs are NOT is a place to hang out and smoke weed all day. They are flexible, but there’s work to be done and rules and regulations that have to be followed. It’s a highly regulated industry already, with more to come. Most of them include no consumption while you’re on the job.

Lots of flex in the system still. Because we only have state laws around the cannabis industry, there is a constant ebb and flow of rules, regulations, changes in structure, growth, adjustment in employment status and ownership status, etc.  There’s change every day. If you’re someone who likes things to stay the same from day to day, cannabis is not going to be a good fit for you. It could be great for an adrenaline junkie though. You might have consistent jobs you do, but you’ll probably have a lot of chances to work through change and opportunities to develop your skills across different roles.

You’ll need to wear many hats. With all that flex in the system and the constant growing and changing of the market, the employees that are willing to wear different hats without complaining are the most likely to make it long term or build a real career in cannabis.  Yes, you might start in patient care and end in the marketing or accounting department over time. BUT, don’t go in expecting to get moved from budtender to CFO because it’s not likely to ever happen. If you want a CFO job, apply for CFO jobs. If you want one in cannabis, you might have to apply and work on it for a while before you get it, but if you’re a budtender, no one is going to listen to your brilliant financial plans, even if they really are brilliant. It’s not your role and they aren’t listening.  However, if you go in as a budtender, show your value and loyalty in that role and then apply for advancing roles as they become available, you’ll probably have a good shot at moving up.

Tight margins, tight pay rates. I mentioned the common misconception of the “Green Rush” earlier, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that while cannabis companies are expected to pay above average taxes on their revenues, they are not allowed to claim any deductions because of federal prohibition.  It’s wrong, but true. In addition, with all the growth, acquisitions, and expansions into vertical markets, many cannabis companies are cash poor and hoping to turn a corner on profitability soon. That means uncertainty and unrest for their employees. That also means that while it seems like there’s tons of money in cannabis, it’s being spent quickly, and not on extraordinarily high pay rates. You shouldn’t expect to get paid any better in cannabis for the type of work you do than you get paid with a more traditional company. In fact, in some positions, the pay is lower because the number of candidates applying is so high. The laws of supply & demand are real.  Here’s the fun fact though; according to Leafly, the average salary of an employee in the cannabis industry is actually about 11% higher than the average salary in the traditional workplace. While the market has been growing steadily with more and more states passing laws to legalize, the opportunities are not infinite and just like we saw with the dot com boom, eventually a market evens out.  Yes, there are some people making big money in cannabis. But there are a lot more LOSING big money in cannabis at the same time.

Owners that are distant. I often hear the complaint that “the owners” are making this decision or that decision that affects staff members and “they don’t care”.  Welcome to corporate life. A lot of people imagine that everyone who works in cannabis is one big, happy family (and honestly, it is quite a tight-knit community), but the corporate takeover of the industry has predictably affected what those workplaces look like.  Shops that were once owned and operated by the person at the counter are fewer and further between as they get purchased one after the other by “the big guys”. If we look at the alcohol industry post prohibition or the pharmaceutical industry, you can see that it’s most likely going to continue to move that direction.  That isn’t to say there are no brands where the owners are still heavily involved in the day to day operations, but it’s becoming less and less the norm. It’s even highly likely that you could get a job with a mom and pop shop one day and within a few months, they sell and you work for a corporation with bosses on the other side of the country.  If you really want to work in cannabis, you have to consider this high probability and make sure you’re ok with adjusting to that work flow.

Too many leaders, not enough workers. Maybe it’s because we are so connected to one another, but, contrary to popular belief, there are a LOT of cannabis users who have drive, motivation, energy, and leadership abilities.  There are business owners, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, creatives and more. Many of us have some innate “do it our way” personality traits and personally, I love it. Unfortunately, when we’re talking about a retail, warehouse, or production style job, there just isn’t room for everyone to be the leader. There has to be people willing to simply get the hard work done quickly and consistently. Floors need to be swept, flower needs to be trimmed, boxes need to be hauled, customers need to be checked out.  If you really want to build a career in cannabis, keeping your head down and getting the job done the way they want it done is going to be necessary at times. You probably won’t be the leader most of the time, but you can always be a hard worker. You probably won’t like the leader some of the time, but you should still always be the hard worker. You’ll likely last longer than that bad leader does, if you want to.

Loyalty is expected, but not always given. In any job, your employer expects a certain level of loyalty.  They may have you sign non-compete or non-disclosure contracts to ensure you maintain that loyalty. But in cannabis, it’s on a whole different level.  First, you have a lot of people who have been scammed and stolen from along the way as the industry was being built. That seriously eroded trust and caused a lot of people in the industry to feel as if “loyalty” was both a foregone principle, and simultaneously, the only principle that really matters.  What that means is that loyalty and absolute commitment to your brand will usually be expected and you might even encounter situations where the level of loyalty they want from you is beyond what you would expect from a traditional workplace. That’s not a problem, because you know how to be loyal, right?  The problem is on the other side of this equation because like I mentioned before, this industry is still in flex right now. So, you might make an agreement with a boss or owner one day and throw yourself into your side of the agreement full force only to discover a short time later that they have backed out, sold to another company, changed the whole plan or otherwise completely reneged on your deal. It’s probably more likely to happen than not, in fact. How will you handle it? Are you willing to work through those times to build your career in cannabis? Because the other important part of the equation is the reputation you can and will build for yourself over time in this still very tight-knit community.  Will it be one of someone who is loyal and quiet or as someone who is self-serving and can’t keep a secret? Burning bridges is dangerous in this industry where your employee one day could be your boss the next.

The best jobs are like getting into the NFL. Yes, cannabis is growing. Yes, it’s the fastest growing job market in the country. Yes, there is still a lot of room for more growth. BUT. We are still at the beginning of a long journey. Most other industries we know of are 60, 70, or 150+ years old, but legal cannabis is still really in gestation. The first legalization efforts happened just over a decade ago and we still haven’t achieved federal decriminalization, so we have a long way to go. The truth is, with all the growth and change and flex happening in this industry, there are still massive layoffs happening and corporate restructurings that are cutting thousands of jobs from some brands. When you think about it, the best jobs with the best cannabis brands are really like getting into the NFL.  There are 10 million cannabis consumers in the US and only 250 – 300K jobs total, including the peripheral positions that don’t actually touch the plant. That means that only about 2 – 3% of cannabis consumers could even have a shot at a job in the industry.  It makes sense that it takes a little extra time and commitment to build a dream career in cannabis.

So, is a career in cannabis worth it?

Well, only you can really answer that question, but here’s what some of our friends say who have jobs in cannabis…

“I love the smell of coming in to work every morning!”

“The people I work with are the best group of people I’ve ever worked with”

“It’s a small world, so when one job has ended it’s been easy to move to a new company and keep the same network.”

Mantis Careers was created to connect diverse candidates with quality cannabis brands so we can build the cannabis industry from the inside out. We’re here to help you figure out if cannabis is for you, connect with hiring managers, and get and keep jobs you love. Visit Mantiscareers.com/apply today to complete your profile and tell us more about your ideal job in cannabis.