The cannabis industry in North America is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented growth. Last year, Fortune magazine reported a 690 percent rise in job listings between January 2017 and August 2018, and projected an additional 220 percent growth for the industry in 2019.
This is "just the tip of the iceberg," according to Josh Wand, CEO of the recruitment firm ForceBrands, which launched the cannabis-focused subsidiary HerbForce back in January. HerbForce was created to help cannabis entrepreneurs build their sales, marketing, finance, and operations teams.
Wand told Civilized that the company’s interest in cannabis began once they started seeing a rise in THC and CBD-infused products popping up in the market.
"We found that they were really looking to create food, beverage, beauty, personal care products," he said. "Which were all verticals we were already growing through our other interests."
Building an Industry
But how do you recruit someone for a role in an industry that hasn’t existed before? As cannabis continues to navigate the legal landscape in the US and Canada, a lot of these companies might feel like they’re going in blind. However, Wand said that a lot of the jobs now being created in the cannabis space have some equivalent in other industries.
"While it is technically new territory, they want people with experience that can help scale the business," he said. "You look for other high-growth categories like food, beverage, beauty, pharma to find those with relatable skillsets that can come in and add a lot of value."
Which is not to say that those who have years of experience working specifically with cannabis prior to legalization are not valued.
"I think there is a lot of institutionalized knowledge on behalf of people that have been growing for years, especially on the cultivation and growth side," he said. "There are cannabis gurus who are experts in extraction and growing. We’re seeing a lot of these founders and executives who came up through the ranks over a period of years in the industry."
However, he points out, a company cannot be made up of seasoned cannabis professionals alone. As the market grows, businesses have to look to successful leaders in other industries as well.
"A company needs to ensure that they grow their business with like-minded people who have come up through other industries that have experienced scale."
Because of that, Wand said that he's noticed a lot of companies taking the opportunity to be more diverse and open with their hiring practices, creating more opportunities for women and people of color, while other, older industries continue to see more institutionalized exclusivity.
"I’ve noticed a lot more openness—very, very rapidly within the industry, because there are less constraints. With a new industry, there is no traditional way of working, so it’s opening up doors for everyone."
But what about those with criminal records for non-violent drug offenses? In this regard, Wand seems less certain. He said that while he hasn’t seen it become much of an issue, but he hasn't seen it become a major topic of concern for many businesses either.
"If someone has a criminal record, whether it be for a cannabis-related offence or not, that’s up to the individual company’s human resources policy."
While this is true of most industries, it continues to be a major issue of concern for advocates of cannabis reform who feel that those who have suffered the most under cannabis prohibition are now unable to benefit from its legalization. A felony conviction can cripple one’s ability to find jobs, even in the industry that deals in the very substance they were convicted for. And that puts minorities and people of color at a distinct disadvantage since three-quarters of people in prison for drug offences are African American and Latino, adding another layer of racial injustice to hiring practices that discriminate against ex-convicts.
Because of the complicated legal landscape in the US and Canada, many still feel trepidation about becoming involved in a cannabis business, but Wand said this is quickly dissipating.
"Until it becomes federally legal, it will never be a no-brainer. But, I think when you get good legal counsel, you most often find that they can be pretty comfortable that they are not jeopardizing their career."
Despite cannabis being federally legal across Canada, Wand says there is much more growth as well as more job opportunities in America's legal states.
"The California market is already bigger than Canada," he noted, adding that the state’s more relaxed regulations have allowed for cannabis-related companies to flourish.
"You’re going to see an increasing number of adjacent businesses, just as you do with beer. It’s easier to pursue an adjacent company, in which you don’t have to apply for a license, so more of those are popping up."
While the rate of job growth continues to gain momentum, Wand thinks that, in baseball terms, the cannabis industry is "only entering its second inning," and that we have only a fraction of how big the industry will eventually become.
"Most of these companies are creating entirely new blueprints. They’re not just hiring a couple of incremental additions—they’re hiring whole teams. Because they’re getting funded so fast. So, at all levels they’re hiring, filling out whole organizations."
Where To Start
So how does one prepare themselves for an entry-level position in a cannabis company? Wand said that it's no longer enough to say you "just want to work in cannabis." You’re going to have to get more specific.
"Do you want to work for a brand? A grower? A dispensary? Whatever your field of interest, you’re going to have to really study it, just like you would any other industry," he said. "Get involved with the community. Got to trade shows. Just do your research and get to know the type of companies you want to work for."
He notes that this should be considered a positive thing, as it presents far more points of entry for prospective employees. He also notes that as cannabis becomes increasingly intertwined with other industries, "there will be no shortage of opportunities to educate yourself."