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Living: Five things to know before joining the cannabis industry

By Sue Vorenberg
Cannabis Daily Record

Legal cannabis may be the fastest growing industry in the country right now, but how do you know if it’s the right fit for you?

Working in the industry comes down to a lot more than just a love of pot. Whether you’re looking for a career as a bud trimmer, budtender, grower or anything else, it’s important to keep in mind that the rules in this young industry aren’t well established – and joining it isn’t for the faint of heart.

Still think you’re ready to go? Here are five things to consider before jumping in:

1. Every business is a startup business.

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Why does it matter if a business is old or new? It comes down to money and structure.

Established industries offer jobs with benefits, stability and often a well-thought-out chain of command.

Don’t expect that in the cannabis industry.

The oldest marijuana businesses – at least legal recreational ones – have only been around for about a year and a half. Most don’t offer health or retirement benefits, and with markets in legal states still in flux, there’s no assurance that your job will still be there in six months.

Management and human resources aspects of these businesses may also not be as well thought out as you’d find in other industries. If you want to work for a good company, do some research first, ask questions about how employees are treated, and don’t just jump at the first offer that comes along.

2. Loving weed isn’t enough.

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Working as a bud trimmer or budtender isn’t just about loving cannabis or getting stoned. These are real jobs with real responsibilities that you need to take seriously.

Going to work high or getting high at work are both great ways to lose your job. If you’re hired as a budtender, expect to be on your feet and talking to customers for most if not all of your shift. If you’re hired as a bud trimmer, expect to keep your eyes focused and have your hands constantly occupied during your shift.

In other words, it can be tiring, repetitive work – not the stoner joy ride some may be expecting.

On the other hand, though, at least you don’t have to worry about drug testing if you like to smoke on your own time.

You also often get discounts on product or samples as an employee – which is perhaps the main benefit of the industry, along with working with like-minded individuals who also love cannabis. But when you buy and use samples, you should pay attention to how they affect you and not just use them without thinking – the purpose of discounts and sampling is to make you, as an employee, more knowledgeable about the products you’re selling.

3. The good news: You’ll get paid by check, not cash.

While cannabis businesses are still stuck with the chaos of taking most of their transactions in cash (due to banking industry issues with the drugs illegal federal status), the same is not true for employee paychecks.

Most businesses pay employees by check on a regular basis, with taxes and deductions taken out, just like other legitimate companies. Many even offer direct deposit.

That said, some large banks have discriminated against cannabis industry workers – closing accounts and making them take their business elsewhere. So if you join the industry, you may want to check with your bank first to make sure they won’t oust your account.

4. Expect a certain amount of chaos.

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If you adapt well to changing circumstances and thrive on challenges then the cannabis industry may well be a great fit.

If you like structure, order and having a fixed, well-defined job, though, you may want to look elsewhere.

Legislatures are constantly tweaking and changing the rules for the cannabis industry. As a worker, you need to keep up with those changes and know what’s legal and what’s not – both so you can advise your customers and so you can personally avoid breaking the law.

Sometimes, those changes also force businesses to switch policies literally overnight. As a budtender, you may find you have to change sales tactics on the fly, or even learn a new back end computer system quickly.

Trimming work can also be somewhat chaotic – depending on harvest cycles and need. Sometimes, you may find yourself working 12-hour shifts or longer, followed by periods of downtime with little work while you’re waiting for plants to grow.

You may also end up cross-training for a variety of jobs at your company. That’s a good thing, because it gives you more job security and skills. But it can be stressful for somebody who doesn’t like change.

5. Don’t expect to get rich.

Entry-level jobs in the industry like budtenders and trimmers generally start in the $12 to $15 an hour range. That’s better than flipping burgers, but it’s probably not enough for you to support a family on.

Legal markets also change so rapidly that even business owners – stores, growers, processors and others – often struggle to stay out of the red. Product prices also continue to drop as markets mature, which makes it hard for business owners to predict what their bottom line will be in the future.

That means you could get laid off with little notice.

If you’re dedicated, though, and you spend your time learning as much as you possibly can at your job, those skills can easily be ported over to your next industry job.

More states are joining in the legal cannabis revolution, and as they do so the industry will continue to expand with new careers and new opportunities. Getting started and developing your talents now, while the industry is so young, can help you move up to a better and more stable career in the future when the industry matures.

Experience is gold. And the wave of legal cannabis is unlikely to stop.

If you’ve finished the list and still think this is the industry for you, then the time to jump in is now. Joining the industry is like jumping onto the ground floor of history – it’s not for everybody, but for those that make it, a bright future awaits.

Sue Vorenberg is the founder of Cannabis Daily Record. She has 20 years of experience as a journalist covering a wide array of topics, including cannabis legalization and consumer markets. She also founded The Columbian’s Cannabis Chronicles blog and spent about three months working in the industry. You can reach her at sue@cannabisdailyrecord.com

2 Comments on Living: Five things to know before joining the cannabis industry

  1. In Nome Alaska the city wants to run the dispensary then the product should come into Nome from anywhere in the world just like a liquor story. And the product bests serves the med/Rec customers

  2. Transport across state lines is absolutely not allowed at all. Marijuana is still a federally controlled substance, until that changes NO marijuana will be legally sold unless it was cultivated in the same state. Municipality owned facilities in Alaska at this point will not be permitted as they were not provided for in AS 17.38

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