There are a few things Andrea Brooks wishes she’d known before getting into the cannabis industry.
It’s been almost one year since Brooks founded Sava, an e-commerce platform for hand-crafted cannabis goods in San Francisco, California.
As nine states prepare to vote on recreational or medical marijuana legislation in the upcoming U.S. election – and prospective cannabis professionals in those states gather in growing numbers on the sidelines – Brooks considers it more important than ever to share what she’s learned about the challenges (and the joys) of operating within this complex and ever-evolving industry.
Her first piece of advice? Understand that working in the cannabis industry isn’t a piece of cake – and legalization isn’t going to change that (much).
“There are a lot of people rushing to get into this industry… You see people come and go and that’s because it’s really hard,” said Brooks.
“I think anyone who thinks that if certain [measures] pass, it’s going to be a dream to jump into the business really needs to think [again]… It’s hard, and I think there are going to be specific challenges that remain for quite a long time until there’s complete federal legalization or rescheduling [from the DEA].”
The biggest challenge Brooks has experienced is “not having a clear roadmap” for doing business in the blossoming cannabis world; this is partly why it’s so important to align yourself early on with others in the industry who share your vision and values.
“There are so many personalities and so many different intentions flowing in [to the industry]… that it’s really important to be working with people you trust,” said Brooks.
“There are people who are just wanting to come in and make money and there are people who are extremely passionate because cannabis has changed their life or the life of a loved one and there are all kinds of shades in between that spectrum… I would say vet your partners, vet everyone, because I think you’ll have a challenging time in this industry if your values aren’t aligned with those people.”
Surrounding yourself with the right people is so essential, believes Brooks, because “you need that support and that community” when times are tough or just generally befuddling.
If you ask Lezli Engelking, founder of the international cannabis standards development organization FOCUS (Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards), those tough times will be a lot tougher if you don’t do your research.
Today’s cannabis professional wears many hats, explains Engelking, and it’s essential that you know those hats inside and out before you enter the industry.
“The cannabis business-owner is so many things besides just a cannabis business-owner… I think a lot of people get into this business without being aware of that,” said Engelking. “It’s not just about having enough money to start a company… You instantly become a small farmer, an HR manager, a compliance officer.”
These roles are critical to have established in any industry. But if they’re neglected in the cannabis industry, things can go south fast, added Engelking.
“In this industry, your license can be yanked immediately if you’re not complying with the regulations, and those regulations are [really, really] detailed. We’ve got more regulations than the fracking industry,” said Engelking.
“It’s very tough to be on top of those all the time and on top of that, they change regularly… being aware of all that is a huge challenge.”
Above all, finding success in an industry as fast moving and ever-changing as cannabis comes down to early planning, and constant vigilance, according to Engelking.
“They need to plan, and they need to have a complete plan – not just what the state asks for but everything [in terms of] how to run a business, so you’re not just making decisions on the fly,” said Engelking. “It’s about understanding all the different aspects and really planning for the best and worst case scenarios, and having systems to manage that is super important, because it changes so quick.”