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How to turn a degree into a cannabis career

If you’re a recent college graduate, how do you go about finding a job in the cannabis industry, and what does it mean to work in a field that’s still technically federally illegal?

I asked myself those questions last year before I dove head-first into the industry. As a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate, I found that making the jump into cannabis was nerve-racking, especially if the state you’re coming from is still sour on legalization.

Quick tips for cannabis industry hopefuls

    • Use social media like Instagram to immerse yourself in cannabis culture.
    • Think about laws and locations when choosing a job. It’s different in every state.
    • Build community with like-minded people and grow together!

To help you on your search, Leafly spoke with recent graduates as well as Karson Humiston, the founder of Vangst Talent Network, which bills itself as the world’s largest staffing and recruiting agency focused on cannabis.

The US cannabis industry now supports 321,000 full-time jobs

If you’re one of millions of college students graduating this season, opportunities abound. You just have to know where to look. Here are the four major topics that need to be addressed when trying to turn a degree into a cannabis career.

Getting your toes wet

Portrait of African-American man wearing mask and using laptop while working at desk in office, copy space

First thing: Educate yourself on cannabis and the workings of the industry. It helps to brush up on cannabis rules and regulations, which vary by state, county, and even city. But doing your research is only half the battle. If you want to be noticed, you need to put yourself out there.

Too often “people send their resume and just hope it will get picked up,” Humiston told Leafly from her office in Denver. Some cannabis companies receive “hundreds and hundreds of resumes a day,” she said. “People need to be a little more proactive and get out there.”

What does “getting out there” look like? Humiston suggested attending job fairs and cannabis conferences. Those events give job-seekers the chance to meet representatives from a wide variety of companies and consider which might be the best fit, and many are now held online to accommodate a diverse pool of applicants.

The basic idea is to separate yourself from the masses. Interest in working in the cannabis industry has spiked in recent years as states like California, Illinois, Nevada, and Massachusetts passed legalization laws.

“We are getting a huge wave,” said Humiston, whose agency has responded by organizing career fairs in cities across the U.S. “That’s a great way to meet with companies directly.”

Start meeting other people in the cannabiz at virtual events or through social networking.

Picking a specialty

It’s not quite enough to say you want to work “in cannabis.” Humiston advises knowing what you want to do professionally, too. Do you want to be an accountant in the cannabis industry? A testing lab technician? A marketing executive? A journalist?

“I would recommend that people figure out what they want to do with their careers—not just focus on the cannabis industry,” Humiston said.

10 questions to ask before starting a cannabis business

It’s also important to be familiar with the job market in the region you’d like to call home. Job markets can differ significantly from state to state, especially in places like Colorado or Washington, which have had legal cannabis markets for a few years now.

“If you want to work in marketing, research the types of jobs and the companies that are hiring for marketing,” Humiston said. “You can go onto our website and look at the jobs we post. You can go [to] all the various job boards and just research companies in Colorado or Washington, etc., so you can see who is hiring for a particular type of role.”

Once you identify an employer that interests you, consider inviting them out for an informational interview over lunch or coffee.

How to choose the right community for your cannabis business

“Once you research different companies that are hiring, reach out to them,” Humiston said. “If you see that [a certain company] is hiring for a marketing coordinator, look on LinkedIn for people currently in the marketing department there and ask to take them for a cup of coffee and talk to them about their experience there.”

How to tell your family about your cannabis career

Not everybody will be excited to learn of your interest in the cannabis industry. “I vividly remember this one close friend of my parents told me that I had so much potential, and I was going to ruin my career by doing this,” Humiston recalled.

When I came to Leafly, my main concern was what my family—mainly my mom and dad—would think about my decision to move from sports PR to writing about cannabis. Would my great aunt and uncle still look at me the same? Or would they be disappointed with my choice to work in a sector emerging from decades of stigma?

“Of my two parents, my dad is much more excited and supportive of it—and now my mom is as well,” Humiston said. “But in the beginning, she was very skeptical. Same with my grandparents, my cousins, aunt and uncles, and my close family friends.”

How to show up for women and minorities in cannabis

Try not to misinterpret the skepticism as an attack, Humiston advised. “When there are people you look up to who are really disconcerted, they are not saying it to be mean. They actually do believe that. And I could tell they did.”

While family and friends can offer valuable insight, Humiston stressed that this type of decision should only be made by the graduate—the only person, she said, who truly knows what they want out of their career.

“By the time you are almost through college, you are an adult,” Humiston said. “You need to consider what the best decision is for you. Try to avoid all the exterior noise. Focus on what you think is right and what you think is going to help you have a successful career.”

And keep an open mind. “Success is measured by a lot of different things, not just financial success,” Humiston noted. “Is this an industry that I can grow within? Is this an industry that I am going to be happy in? Do I like the types of people that work in this space?”

Networking with industry professionals

Not sure where to start?

LinkedIn is a great place to find cannabis jobs. It will also keep you up to date with cannabis industry topics. And don’t forget to check the Leafly Industry section each week for news.

Updated 9/13/2021.

Gage Peake's Bio Image
Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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