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Transferring Professional Skills To The Cannabis Industry


In 2012, a significant milestone was achieved when Colorado and Washington became the pioneering states to legalize recreational marijuana in the United States. Fast forward to today, and the recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in 21 states along with Washington, D.C. This transformation has given rise to the burgeoning U.S. cannabis industry, which is projected to generate approximately $32 billion in sales this year.

However, like any industry, the cannabis sector has faced challenges when it comes to acquiring the necessary talent. What are the specific skills required in the cannabis industry? Which skills can be transferred from other industries? And how has the industry managed to attract individuals with these skills?

Similar to the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, the cannabis sector is involved in selling products to the public and thus requires talent in various areas, including sales, marketing, retail/distribution, HR, finance/accounting, and legal/compliance. Given its relatively new status, cannabis companies have often sought professionals who have honed their skills in other industries.

Several skills acquired in different sectors can be seamlessly applied to the legal cannabis industry, such as:

1. Experience in highly regulated sectors: Proficiency in highly regulated industries like pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and banking can readily transition to the cannabis industry. "Professionals operating in the cannabis space must grasp regulatory intricacies because compliance is of utmost importance," stated HR thought leader Tara Furiani, host of the "Not the HR Lady" podcast.

2. Startup experience: Working for a cannabis company is akin to being part of a tech startup, devoid of a standardized playbook. The legal cannabis industry is evolving rapidly, necessitating individuals who can juggle multiple roles, think innovatively, and collaborate effectively across disciplines and departments, as highlighted by Matthew Indest, the technical director of agronomy and plant improvement at cannabis provider Curaleaf.

3. Sales and marketing expertise: Cannabis companies seek skilled professionals who can stimulate product demand, facilitate purchases, and generate revenue. However, they must contend with numerous legal restrictions pertaining to the sale, marketing, and advertising of cannabis products, which often vary across different states.

4. Finance and cost accounting proficiency: The U.S. cannabis industry has long struggled with banking and managing cash flow, making finance and accounting skills highly sought after. The American Bankers Association explains that since marijuana remains illegal under federal law, providing banking services related to cannabis could be considered money laundering.

5. A learning mindset: The transferability of professional skills to the cannabis industry ultimately depends on individuals' willingness to learn and adapt to evolving circumstances, according to Jessica Glazer, owner of MindHR, a Montreal-based executive placement, career coaching, and resume writing company that collaborates with the cannabis industry.

Additionally, the cannabis industry requires individuals with agricultural skills, including expertise in cultivation, processing practices, and plant science. For instance, Indest began his career working with crops like sweet potatoes before transitioning to cannabis. His experience with non-cannabis crops in the field of plant science proved to be highly transferable. Breeding schemes, improving crop traits, and disease resistance, which he had previously focused on, all found practical applications in cannabis cultivation.

Despite its resemblance to the CPG industry, the cannabis industry possesses certain unique aspects. Cannabis companies are typically small-scale enterprises and often lack clearly defined job roles. Kara Bradford, CEO of Viridian Staffing, a recruiting agency specializing in the cannabis industry, notes that many cannabis companies have fewer than 200 employees, posing challenges for professionals accustomed to working in large, established businesses with less versatility and flexibility requirements.

Finance and marketing professionals face specific hurdles in applying their skills to the cannabis industry. Finance professionals from non-cannabis backgrounds may struggle with navigating the industry's banking and financial limitations, while marketers need to adjust to the industry

's restrictive advertising regulations, as pointed out by Furiani.

A third challenge lies in acquiring knowledge about the plant itself and its effects on individuals, according to Kelsea Appelbaum, vice president of partnerships at Vangst, a cannabis industry recruiting firm. Given the nascent stage of the cannabis industry, everyone is on a learning journey together.

To address these challenges, cannabis companies are exploring innovative ways to attract talent from other industries. Some companies collaborate with staffing agencies and headhunters to identify and recruit candidates with specific skill sets. Others offer competitive salaries and generous benefit packages to entice professionals from more traditional sectors. Creative strategies such as "budtender competitions" or "cannabis cook-offs" are even being implemented to attract talent.

As the cannabis industry continues to mature and more professionals choose it as their career path, the transfer of skills is expected to become more seamless. Ultimately, the cannabis industry, despite its added level of regulation and laws, shares commonalities with agricultural and CPG industries. As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, you can find many more opportunities at

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