Young Professionals: How to Navigate Your Future in Cannabis

Young Professionals in Cannabis

The Interview

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Cue blank stare and mild internal panic. This is possibly the most cliché question to be asked in a modern day job interview, but a question nevertheless, that I have not once been able to answer honestly as a young professional seeking to be in the cannabis industry.

I can’t tell the interviewer that I can see myself starting my own commercial marijuana business, pending full legalization in California. Actually, I definitely can’t even mention marijuana, at all, in any context. Even if I use the correct term, “cannabis,” I’ll probably get an Excuse me? and then I’ll have to say “marijuana” to clarify. The word just sounds awful in my head; I can practically feel the judgment radiating from the seat opposite me, though I’ve still said nothing and the interviewer has said nothing.

I start to sweat and desperately try to come up with something more banal that I could see myself doing in five years. The interviewer is never impressed with my boring, made-up answer. But in that moment, it’s better than completely derailing the interview with a conversation about cannabis that could go one of a hundred different directions, a majority of those being bad. And yet, if a young man said he plans to start a successful brewery or distillery, his entrepreneurial spirit would be applauded and there would be little judgment about it.

The stigma of cannabis use is a crippling obstacle for everyone in the community. It has forced many of us to lead “secret lives,” concealing our true interests and passions from new people that we meet, colleagues, and even some friends and family. As patients or recreational users, we are generally looked down upon by those who don’t understand, and as activists, we are caricatured and laughed at.

The Weight of Negative Stigma

Job-seekers in the cannabis world face a special challenge in dealing with this stigma. As the movement becomes more mainstream, how do you present yourself as an advocate and yet still appear professional? Can I share cannabis news on social media, or will co-workers and other acquaintances get offended and “narc” me out to the boss? Do I include cannabis-related experience on my resume, or try to hide it? If I do take a cannabis-related job, will I be subsequently be further “unhireable?”

Perhaps these questions are less pressing for older, more established professionals with good connections in the industry, but as a recent college graduate, with little experience, looking to break into cannabis at this opportunistic time… I am entirely lost. It’s an unfielded terrain ahead of me.

All I want to do is share my passion for cannabis with the entire world. What I don’t want is for a shallow hiring manager to think that I want to be a drug dealer when I grow up. And unfortunately, that is still a stigma on the minds of many.

Where I was once outspoken on social media, I now stick to brief engagement with content rather than trying to share it with my larger network of friends, many of whom just aren’t interested. I still proudly indicate my organizing experience for Prop 19 on my resume; but for most people I suppose you’d have to be “in the know” to remember exactly which ba lot initiative that was. It’s a sad truth that I’ve slowly learned to deal with, but now the tides are really beginning to turn in terms of “cannapreneurship” being the next big business trend.

Guidelines for Young Professionals

So, for the Millennial-aged cannabis job seekers out there – I use these common sense guidelines to appear honest and professional while still remaining an open cannabis advocate.

  1. Use the term “cannabis” instead of “marijuana” whenever possible. This is the correct term, after all, and sounds more professional than the racialized, stigmatized drug slang from the 1930s.
  2. Think hard about your specific career goals and how being associated with cannabis may affect that. Are you okay with potentially not being hired because of your views? If you aren’t ready for that kind of commitment, it may be best to understate your involvement until a later time when you feel more secure.
  3. Read through your resume, web and social media profiles, and LinkedIn, and put yourself in the shoes of a HR person with a very basic knowledge of cannabis, or even a negative opinion of it. Play devil’s advocate with yourself. Do you feel comfortable with how everything reads? Or are there potential ‘red flags’? Revise your profile based on your personal comfort level and don’t forget to put yourself in the hiring manager’s mindset.
  4. When describing your duties at a cannabis-related position, list specific tasks or duties that you handled that could be applied to other professions like sales, marketing, community outreach, or customer service. On the whole, employers want to hear about your hard skills, not the “environment” or theme at your last workplace. Use that to your advantage and include your cannabis-related experience on your resume however is most comfortable for you.

The Future of Your Career in Cannabis

I certainly used to feel sheepish even admitting that I was into the “counterculture.” Now, perhaps I’m getting jaded, but if an adult can’t see the reason behind the legalization movement, then that’s honestly not someone I would ever want to be around, let alone work for.

The bottom line is that this industry is still at the tip-of-the-iceberg stage, and it’s already bigger than wine and beer combined. Legal hemp and cannabis are going to have the effect of “Web 2.0” on so many other industries as well – health, nutrition, agriculture, psychology, pharmacology, energy, construction, raw materials, and textiles, just to name a handful. Why wouldn’t we be proud to be surfing the wave crest of inevitable success that’s coming?

This message is for the other lost young professionals out there: If you know you’ve got what it takes and cannabis is all you can think about, don’t let anyone stop you. Refine your worldview and web presence now to reflect your goals for this industry. This is our dream, our time!

What are your thoughts? Do you have questions for the author? Feel free to comment below!

  • It is such a hard terrain to navigate, but one that, if you are passionate enough, is a road you must take! It’s SUCH an exciting time in history to be a part of and I’ll ensure you’ll all learn SO much!

  • While your suggestions are fantastic, we at Cannabis Integrity Authority would like to suggest that anyone seriously considering getting in to the cannabis industry, seriously study the endocannabinoid system. Ti understand and Study in depth chemical components of cannabinoids and how the body uses specific cannabinoids for various things. Understanding the basics of chemistry is required for a pharmacy technician and should also be required for someone dispensing cannabis.

    our company travels to nationwide locations to teach various topics about the cannabis industry and I find our students lack the concept of ethical business operations or standardized expectations. We truly feel that our industry needsome to become professional, whether at the grow op stage, transportation phase, sales and delivery section or even edible distribution point.

    When teaching people wanting to get into cannabis employment we teach horticulture for growers, business management for dispensary owners and managers. Bud tenders who interact like pharmacists with consumers whether medical or recreational should have knowledge on the effects of cannabis, counseling, customer service, broad overview of diseases and much more. Currently bud tenders are underpaid and untrained. Yet they hand out a product that causes a chemical change in the body. We require pharmacists to understand medicine. Cannabis should be no different.

    Even if recreational bud tenders should be able to recognize the dangers of white mold, powdery mildew, black fungus or any insects, etc. Whether the product was dried and cured properly. The difference between strains and specific varieties of strains, whether indoor or oitdoor. They should understand terpenes and their effects. Understand the current issies of solvents in concentrates and more.

    Growers should be aware of environmental issues, should never allow molds or mildew and should manage water properly, stay away from chemical fertilizers, use no pesticides that are not organic and understand the implications that this product will go inside a human body.

    The same goes for any position within the industry that so many people overlook. The bottom line is ethical business and patient safety.

    This is what we believe and what we teach. We provide certification nationwide and we help companies create their own standardized training procedures.

    These are the kinds of things we…. as an industry… need to demand of ourselves and on a peer to peer level hold our competition and vendor companies to the same levels.

    The green rush is great for those wanting fast cash… but those of us who know cannabis is imperative and those of us who know it works on many things need to step up and demand better quality and higher expectations. Otherwise we will all lose and the industry will be handed to Pharma on a silver platter.

    If you have any questions feel free to join one of our seminars or contact us. We are always going out of our way to help insure this industry’s survival.

    No one should be uncomfortable announcing they are in or wish to be in the Cannabis Industry. A whether they provide medical Marijuana or recreational products. They should be proud to make an impact on this world in a positive light…. not a dark alleyway drug deal.

    We encourage dispensaries, grow ops, edibles ops to join our seminars Or even those wanting to be involved in the industry as employment. We will be in Sacramento this weekend on Saturday and San Diego on Sunday. Check our schedule or call. If I didn’t give you enough information to help you understand that this isn’t just a get high and part kind of job world… then contact me. I will do my best to help you understand.

    Remember one thing… the endocannabinoid system works with the mitochondria. If you ever want to open your eyes to the scary reality of why cannabis ABSOLUTELY MUST become legal and grown again very soon… look up Mitochondrial DNA mutation rate and realize the implications.

    Meki Cox
    CIA
    Making business owners responsible now.

  • Jose G

    This is a good topic to address specially for those who are just learning about cannabis and are still not sure about it.
    I am a cannabis consultant and entrepreneur working in Latin America, which is a good 15 years behind the US cannabis industry, and there are three things I have learned:

    1. For those wanting to join the cannabis industry you have to be all in or nothing. All or nothing, there are no other options here. If you cannot speak proudly of the cannabis plant and your commitment to making cannabis a reality, I advise a different industry.

    2. Read, study, memorize, learn as much as you can about the Cannabis plant, its medicinal uses, the current industry that is developing and the history around it. People are going to ask you tons of questions that you should be able to answer in a professional, concise and clear way.

    3. Write, write and write. The narrative around cannabis is still developing and new terms, ideas and explanations are badly needed for people to snap out of the prohibition marketing campaign of “it’s bad”.

    Understand that we are seeing not just a new industry, but a human revolution that is touching the body, mind and soul of everybody who comes in contact with cannabis and its industry.

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