Nicole Skibola of Cosmic View
Photo of Nicole Skibola by Cayce Clifford | @cayceclifford.

How do I get into the cannabis industry? If you’re asking that question, you are not alone. With New York’s legalization on the horizon, and California still in its infancy, there is clearly an enormous market emerging on historical never-before-seen-levels. Cannabis is making a splash for many reasons—among which is its enormous therapeutic potential for so many diseases and its preventative properties. The other obvious reason is that the illicit market has been so big for so long that its inevitable growth is a no brainer. And let’s face it—cannabis is fun, the industry is wild and its potential seems limitless.

Cannabis will continue to grow with increased state access and legalization. So how can you get in on the action? Here are some ideas from an entrepreneur who made it from the gray to the legal market.

1. Embrace the basic principle: Cannabis is like no other industry. It’s not like alcohol. It’s certainly not like hemp. It’s riddled with its own unique challenges and market constraints that make it really, really hard to survive as a company. Therefore your #1 job as a prospective employee is to make a cannabis company’s life easier and more viable. Embrace that basic fact and you’re off to a solid start.

2. Learn as much as you can. While federal funding for studies on the health benefits of cannabis have been nonexistent, states such as California and countries such as Israel and Spain have been funding cannabis research for a while. Brands are overwhelmed with compliance, taxes, the still-thriving black market and the influx of corporate cash. It’s often a struggle to survive and the last thing a brand has time for is to hire employees who haven’t taken the time to understand the basics of the plant. Read up on cannabinoids, terpenes, and the industry in general. Show that you’re interested in the plant, not hopping on a fad.

The reality is that most cannabis companies are startups. Startups require many hats to be worn, from labeling to putting together boxes to doing the stuff you actually want to do.

3. No job is too small. Really. When I first entered the industry, I spent a week trimming cannabis. It was tedious work, but I sat around a table with trimmers, talked about the industry and learned about the plant. It was a really critical moment in learning about different aspects of the industry, not just the sexy branding and marketing part. It was also important to learn how to better understand the many steps involved in cultivation—and ultimately, my supply chain. The reality is that most cannabis companies are startups. Startups require many hats to be worn, from labeling to putting together boxes to doing the stuff you actually want to do. A lot of it is not sexy. But all of it needs to get done.

4. Be proactive. The cannabis industry is unique in that it is historically rooted in a black market and the value of biomass and raw materials is often extraordinarily high. Even small companies can have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cannabis onsite at any given time. And because the industry is still not fully recognized as legal—and because of a thriving (and stubborn) black resale market—companies still operate in a space of major distrust. So, unless you are looking for openings at a huge company, you are very unlikely to find job postings online. It’s simply too risky for small to midsize companies to risk a stranger from Craigslist ripping them off. Interested in working with a specific company or type of company? Go on their Instagram and see when they have an event or a patient appreciation day. Show up, be proactive and introduce yourself.

5. Understand the realities of the industry. Reality: The vast majority of brands have very little money for noncritical roles. Life right now in cannabis is rough. So if you’re dreaming of brand support work like marketing, education or events, then diversify your portfolio with non-cannabis companies. Or think about how else you can add value to a company. Maybe 10% of your time could be spent doing what you actually want to do and 90% at the beginning will be spent on compliance or production. Compromise on your goals and give it time. The legal market is still hurting as states get a grip on the black market and their own crippled regulatory system. Think of your first gig as an investment in your future. Approach companies with the mindset of how you will make their jobs easier, not how you will land the job of your dreams (because really, you won’t right now).

Challenges aside, this industry is ripe with opportunity. So go forth, and find your niche amongst the hundreds of nascent cannabis companies who are under-resourced and dying for the right jack-of-all-trades to help them prosper. Your efforts, executed with intelligence and hard work will pay off.