‘Higher’ Education for Cannabis Jobs
Posted by Lori Ann Reese on 01/18/2021 in Medical Marijuana
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
For some people, cannabis is a therapeutic tool to help manage symptoms. For other people, cannabis is a lifestyle and something that they are passionate about. If you have legal access to marijuana and know a great deal about it, can you turn that interest into a career? There are more cannabis jobs added every year in the United States.
Even ten years ago, the idea of a profession dedicated to the cannabis industry wasn’t on the radar—a legal profession (not black market). But in the past decade, the legal landscape of cannabis in the United States has changed so quickly. To the extent that post-secondary institutions are now developing courses to help prepare professionals for career opportunities in cannabis.
If you have thought about training for a job in the cannabis sector, the current momentum to federally legalize cannabis should excite you. Even if cannabis is not wholly legalized at the federal level, it may be decriminalized as a controlled substance. And treated similarly to alcohol or tobacco products. If that happens, there will be massive growth in the cannabis industry. And with it, new career opportunities.
High Growth Careers and Job Security With Cannabis Jobs
The cannabis industry (including medicinal and recreational sales) will grow to an estimated $23 billion (U.S) by 2025. Year over year, marijuana sales will increase steadily. That figure does not include other states that may legalize cannabis in the next four years.
One of the things that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is the resilience of specific sectors. For instance, while the foodservice sector was hit hard, medical dispensaries continued to thrive. Designated early in the health emergency as an “essential service,” medical marijuana retailers were able to stay open. The cannabis industry in the United States has proven itself to be ‘pandemic proof.’
It is no wonder that so many people are checking out employment opportunities for cannabis-related careers. It is a high-demand product and service. If you are interested in pursuing a career in the cannabis industry, there are many different types of roles to consider.
1. Cannabis Horticulturist
Most people who use marijuana have a real affection for it. Not just for smoking with it or cooking with it. But they have read about and understand the mysteries of the plant. And they also spend time learning about different strains. Details that most of us find boring, like optimizing soil pH levels.
A cannabis horticulturist is a scientist. Through study, they become a walking encyclopedia of every branch of the Cannabaceae genus. There are three species of cannabis: C. Sativa, C. Indica, and C. Ruderalis. Intrigued? So are they!
Cannabis cultivators started with experienced “home growers,” but state legalization has created a new high-demand niche for cannabis specialists. The creation of new strains and isolating specific terpenes takes some mad science. And since strains that contain high levels of CBD are in demand, developing new strains with anti-inflammatory benefits is lucrative.
The cannabis horticulturist spends some time in the greenhouse. And sometimes, they can be found testing different strains and pollination methods outdoors. Some laboratory time is part of the job as well. But imagine creating a popular new strain! Do cannabis horticulturalists come up with creative names? That would be fun too.
2. Master Extractor
That degree or diploma in chemistry can open up some exciting job opportunities in the cannabis industry. A master extractor works with raw cannabis to extract or harvest oils that can be used for a variety of different products like tinctures, vape cartridge oils, edibles, and creams or topical ointments.
Related training in phytobiology, physics, or chemical engineering is a good prerequisite. Cannabis product manufacturers are looking for qualified people, and there are not many of them currently. This is why training as an extraction technician is being offered at specialty trade colleges in states like Colorado and California. Specialty training for BSc post-graduates.
The job is a lot of biochemistry and working with industrial solvents and cannabis plant materials. Extracting cannabinoids and terpenes requires special processes and the use of chemicals like butane. It is a laboratory type job that provides a remarkably high salary for qualified professionals.
3. Marijuana Tester or Quality Control Inspector
Quality assurance of cannabis products is a legal necessity in the cannabis industry. Every state has a cap on the maximum THC potency of cannabis products. And batch testing is essential to make sure that every product meets those regulatory requirements.
Testing of cannabis products also includes safety checks for good production practices and standard operating procedures. Cannabis must be produced in a food level hygienic environment. That includes trimming, extraction, processing into edibles and topicals.
The marijuana tester doesn’t get to consume cannabis. It’s not like being a food taster. But recording each batch and ensuring it has been through the quality control process is essential. There may be a need to recall products if a problem is found. Each batch (and the products created from the specific harvest) are recorded and archived for legal compliance.
Some of the sizable multistate cannabis manufacturers and retailers have their in-house quality assurance teams. Other independent or smaller dispensaries may outsource this required legal function to a third-party tester. Third-party quality control service providers can serve multiple dispensaries in a city or within the state. There are also lucrative job opportunities with third-party testing companies.
4. Cannabis Dispensary Manager
Do you love helping people? Working in a medical or recreational dispensary means facetime with people who appreciate recommendations. While some people who visit know exactly what type of strain they want, others have no idea. And they count on the experienced budtenders and management team to help them make the right choice.
A dispensary manager also has other responsibilities. This can include coordinating marketing efforts, scheduling of staff, and accounting. As dispensaries are not permitted to receive banking services, they also provide secure transactions, usually in cash. And reconciling sales with cash deposits at the end of the day.
Dispensary managers are also responsible for compliance. Training of dispensary staff means making sure no underage customers enter the store. And in states where only medical cannabis is legalized, it also means checking proper identification, including a medical card. And in the era of Covid-19, providing innovative and safe handling solutions for patients and staff.
5. Marijuana Trimmer
If you love gardening and love cannabis, becoming a trimmer could be a great career opportunity. You aren’t stuck sitting inside of an office all day. Some trimmers work exclusively in the grow room and harvest the bud. Others are provided with cannabis flower, and they have to carefully hand-trim each piece.
Part of the process is also grading the cannabis as you are trimming it. Trimmers are the first to notice whether a particular crop is heavily seeded. Seeded weed isn’t ideal for smoking but can be used by the cultivator for edibles or extractions. It can also be sifted to separate the seeds and sold at a discount as shake.
6. Marketing Manager
Compliance in marketing for the medical marijuana or recreational cannabis sector is a minefield. It’s challenging because of the current federal prohibition against cannabis. That federal stamp of approval (which regulators are working hard to get) creates difficulties in many aspects of advertising medical or recreational cannabis.
Did you know that cannabis companies are blocked from using paid advertising services? Even the mere mention of words like marijuana, cannabis, weed, etc., can get companies blocked from social media networks. Specific terms of service prohibit the promotion of illicit controlled substances. Google Ads and virtually every pay-per-click advertising service ban cannabis promotions.
That means that marketing managers in the cannabis industry have to be creative. Sponsorship of charities and corporate giving is one tool for promotion. Live Streaming+ videos and tours of dispensaries or new product introductions can be useful. Webinars and community events are other methods marketing managers leverage to promote dispensaries.
7. Content Manager
What is the best way to reach customers for a dispensary? Through social media and creative content. There are two categories of customers that a dispensary may sell to, depending on state regulations. If the state has legalized adult-use (recreational) and medical cannabis, patients and general consumers are the target market. And each customer group requires a unique method of visual and content marketing.
For medical dispensaries, educating patients is critical. That can include wellness information provided on the dispensary blog. Patients want to know if cannabis could help their health condition. They also want to know what kind of strains may work best for certain types of symptoms. Medical dispensaries typically have a medical director that reviews all content for accuracy. And for liability purposes.
Marketing for adult-use dispensaries is entirely different. While medical dispensaries emulate a WebMD type of clinical tone, recreational dispensaries use more creative license. They brand their products and promote them through lifestyle marketing. Some product education (regarding strains or types of accessories) is provided for customers. But generally, recreational weed is marketed in a more flamboyant way—trendy, youthful, and fun.
In the cannabis industry, a content manager may lead an editorial team and plan content strategy. The content manager may also be the lead content producer for the organization or MSO. More than ten years of production experience is preferred for content manager roles. And training in SEO (search engine optimization) and web publishing/copyright compliance.
Instead of the proverbial ‘bean counter’ you could train to be a ‘bud’ counter instead. Because of the complex banking restrictions in the U.S. cannabis industry, it can become a lucrative specialty. Accountants make a good income to begin with, but learn how to manage revenue flow without a bank? That takes some talent.
Many financial specialists that provide accounting services to cannabis businesses are also advisors. Businesses that earn income from cultivating, processing, or selling cannabis high few financial tools. Since cannabis is still categorized as a Schedule 1 prohibited substance, banks can’t help. Chartered banks would be breaking the law by managing the proceeds from illegal activity.
The thousands of unbanked cannabis businesses nationally are a concern. Record-breaking sales of both medical and adult-use cannabis demonstrate the difficulty. What do you do with mountains of cash when you cannot deposit it anywhere? Sew it into the mattress? Consider how storing large sums of money is a security risk for dispensaries and ancillary businesses.
Legislation to allow electronic payments for the cannabis industry was stalled in the Senate. As the MORE Act includes legalized banking provisions, moving ahead federally with banking rights has been delayed. If the House of Representatives and the Senate pass the MORE Act in 2021, the 280E tax penalty will be removed. And banks will be allowed to work with cannabis companies.
How Do Dispensaries Pay Their Taxes Without Banks?
Cash payments are also required for marijuana-related businesses that are ‘unbanked.’ It may mean that the company could not create a bank account for electronic payments in the state of residence. So, the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers do accept cash. And if you think it looks like an armored truck, security guards, and a follow car as a chaperon to the IRS office? That is pretty accurate.
Some of the legal accounting and tax requirements from the IRS for marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) include:
- Reporting any trade or transaction involving more than $10,000 in case. A Form 8300 must be filed with the IRS. And it must be filed within 15 days of the transaction. This rule is to help prevent organized crime activity.
- Quarterly installments of taxes collected must be filed, with a Form 1040-ES. IRS Direct Pay is a secure way to make payments. There is also the EFTPS system through the Federal Treasury Department to process tax payments to the government.
Some states are moving ahead by legislating electronic payment options. For instance, in Arizona, the Attorney General approved Alta. It is a start-up alternative banking fin-tech company that will be doing a pilot in Arizona. They will test their platform and secure payments while waiting for final approval and licensing from the state.
Federal Prohibition Limits Educational Funding for Job Training
Because cannabis is still considered an illegal substance at the federal level, no funding is provided for vocational programs from the government. However, some institutions have begun adding specialty courses within the standard curriculum for students. And some trade-schools have been created specifically to train students for a career in cannabis.
Where to Train for Cannabis Jobs
If you already have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, you could rapidly enter the medical marijuana or recreational cannabis sector with specialized training. Certificates can help give you the education you need in different employment roles.
Here are some online resources and educational institutes that can help you get started:
The Cannabis Training Institute
Online education is available from the Cannabis Training Institute (CTI). Three program areas prepare students for medical cannabis training, dispensary technician jobs, and health and safety training. No matter what cannabis jobs you may be after, CTI has many options.
Cannabis Training University
If you already have some college training in a relevant field, getting certified can quickly help you find a job. One of the great things about the Cannabis Training University is the wide variety of certificate programs.
Individuals who may be working in the cannabis industry now can advance with specialized training. Certificate courses are available for everything from growing to trimming, budtender services, and even legal certificates.
Located in Oakland, California, this is a brick-and-mortar school for students who want a specialized degree in cannabis. It has earned the distinction of being the first cannabis college in the United States. And actually, it is also the first cannabis college in the world training people for cannabis jobs.
The school was initially founded in 1995 and has trained over 35,000 students. While students can attend in California, during the Covid-19 health emergency, many classes are now being offered virtually or online.
Professionals teach this online learning institution with years of corporate and dispensary level experience. Courses are provided 100% online for students to fit with any schedule. That means you can study to segue into a cannabis career without leaving your day job.
Online education is provided for introductory courses like terpenes basics, introduction to CBD, horticulture specialist, and safety regulations.
Employment Outlook for Cannabis Jobs
In February of 2020, Leafly reported that the American cannabis industry supported more than 240,000 full-time jobs. During the first year after legalizing cannabis in Massachusetts (for example), over 10,000 new jobs were created.
Download the Leafly 2020 Job Report for some helpful resources.
Cannabis jobs have a wide scope. From production and manufacturing to marketing and advertising. Or legal, health and safety, and accounting roles. There is no shortage of exciting new career opportunities in the U.S. cannabis industry. If you are an advocate of the healing herb, retrain for a high growth industry job. It could be a good way to create an enjoyable and stable income in the future.
Featured Image: G. Gall – Getty Images (Canva)