White Collar Cannabis Careers – the Rise of the Pot Paper Pushers
December 27th, 2016
Policy, Top News
Cannabis is now legal for medical or recreational use in 28 states and the District of Columbia – nearly 60% of Americans live where they can obtain pot legitimately. With this newly emerging multi-billion dollar industry comes not just the ability to purchase weed over-the-counter, but thousands of jobs as well. Any business, especially one as heavily regulated as the legal pot industry, comes with the need for skilled professionals in a variety of positions. From attorneys to accountants, human resources to hash experts, cannabis careers are booming.
Cannabis Careers – More Than Trimming Gigs
“I started doing work in the cannabis industry in mid-2012. I had been doing international business and international trade work before, and I found out that one of the firms I was working with had a local business practice in medical marijuana,” said Robert McVay of the Canna Law Group. Formed in 2010, the multistate law firm is at the forefront of cannabis business and policy.
“I looked at the huge demand for legal work in that arena and quickly jumped to it.”
The emerging marijuana industry is seeing astonishing growth that is only expected to rise. According to research from New Frontier Data, in cooperation with The Arcview Group, the United States canna-business could be worth $22 billion annually within a few short years. Colorado – whose citizens voted for recreational pot in 2012 – employs nearly 10,000 people statewide alone. And it isn’t just growers and glass blowers who are cashing in – white collar professionals are flocking to states where marijuana has been legalized, creating a so-called “Green Rush” that is having an economic ripple effect across the country.
Much like any other business, the cannabis industry has several behind-the-scenes people ensuring its continued success. Financial experts balance the books, meticulously accounting for hundreds of thousands of dollars that cannot yet legally be deposited into bank accounts. City and state governments have created new oversight departments, regulatory councils, and educational institutions in order to handle new laws regarding legal pot and its distribution, hiring a litany of experts, bureaucrats, and policymakers to handle the emergence of an entirely new industry.
Help Wanted: Finding a Cannabis Job
It used to be that people looking into the marijuana business would need to have some sort of connection within the deeply private inner circles of growers and distributors. Now that the cannabis industry has been more or less legitimized, job boards such as 420Careers and THCJobs have popped up across the internet hoping to connect candidates to employers seeking everything from administrative assistants to marketing reps.
“Because of the highly regulated nature of the legal marijuana industry, there are a lot of jobs for people with legal expertise,” explained Shaleen Title of THC Staffing. “Compliance, application writing, developing standard operating procedures, and contracts are all skills in demand.”
Title and business partner Danielle Schumacher founded THC Staffing in 2014 in order to help bring qualified professionals and marijuana businesses together. The company is the first of its kind, an example of how entrepreneurs are getting in on the ground floor of this emerging industry.
“We are continuously seeing the need for financial expertise in the space,” added McVay. “Real analytics, modeling, and valuation work are extremely hard to come by. Most financial calculations in the industry still have a ‘back of the envelope’ feel, so we see pent up demand in that space.”
The overwhelming need for experts in law, branding, distribution, accounting, policy, human resources, and more means some cannabis careers cannot be filled fast enough. In fact, a recent analysis conducted by The Arcview Group and published on CNBC estimates that the number of jobs created by the legal cannabis industry could potentially reach 450,000 within the next few years.
Risky Business: Working in a Not Quite Legal World
Deciding to pursue a career in the cannabis industry may prove to be lucrative, although it’s not without its risks. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and it’s unclear whether the incoming Trump administration will continue to allow individual states to make up their own minds on the subject. Additionally, the major financial players are for the most part still unwilling to accept and maintain the millions of dollars being generated by cannabis sales. This may make things tricky when it comes to retirement savings, 401ks, or other financial dividends.
Negative perceptions of the cannabis industry may also be holding back white-collar professionals from taking jobs, even if they are in demand. However, Title points out that this notion is likely unfounded and encouraged those seeking employment to branch out.
“I rarely see professionals with strong concerns these days,” she said. “Most understand that we are past a tipping point now, with about 60% of people living in a state where cannabis is legal in some form or another. For lawyers, some state bars even explicitly issue recommendations allowing lawyers to practice in cannabis law.”
While the fate of legal pot industry may appear to be in flux, analysts continue to predict huge gains in the coming years. There are currently around 150,000 people working in cannabis careers and with that number expected to rise dramatically, the need for qualified professionals – especially those with law, government, science, or administrative backgrounds – will too. Will the Green Rush hit a peak, much like the tech bubble in Silicon Valley? At this point, it appears that the ceiling is sky-high.
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