Looking for a job in the pot industry? Don't say Cannabis

Looking for a job in the pot industry? Don't say cannabis

In some ways, applying for a job in cannabis is like applying for a job in any other industry. In other ways, it's like nothing any job seeker has ever done before.

That's because the industry is brand new in the state and, though it is legal in New York, cannabis is still federally prohibited. That brings a host of complications and pitfalls, and has companies walking a legal tightrope that makes for some important distinctions job seekers should be aware of.

But it hasn't stopped companies for champing at the bit to get their piece of the pot pie, or the experts from predicting lucrative things to come. The cannabis industry could add nearly 51,000 jobs in New York State, earning $2.2 billion a year by 2027, according to cannabis education website Leafly. That includes both plant-touching and ancillary jobs supporting the market.

And because social justice has been such a big part of New York's efforts, those jobs are largely well paying – even entry level positions. Unions have been heavily involved in worker advocacy among cannabis employers, and each company by law must sign a labor peace agreement, saying they will not stand in the way of union organizing. Jobs in the state's medical marijuana industry average $65,000, according to job search site ZipRecruiter.

But starting a career in the industry is not as easy as simply searching "cannabis jobs" on the internet.

Legal marijuana sales launched in the state Thursday – but not in Western New York.

The trouble with cannabis

With cannabis still illegal by federal standards, it leaves even state-sanctioned cannabis businesses operating in a legal grey area that other companies don't want to touch. That puts them in danger of losing their insurances, their bank account, even their websites and payment processing systems.

Roughly 70% of cannabis-related businesses operate on a cash-only basis and don't have a relationship with a bank, estimates the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

A business using the term cannabis anywhere in its correspondence, name or online presence puts it at risk. That's why cannabis businesses will not usually use the words cannabis, marijuana, pot or weed in their job postings. 

"They have life insurance, health insurance, all kinds of things that could interfere with that," said Tiffany Walters, founder of NYS Cannabis Connect, a resource hub for businesses and consumers.

The state's cultivators and processors are sitting on an estimated $1.5 billion of marijuana, with fewer than half the expected dispensaries in which to sell it. 

But if you can't say cannabis, what should you say?

That's where keywords come in.

Keywords are crucial when it comes to searching and applying for jobs online, said Maggie Shea, a partner at staffing agency StaffBuffalo. Her company specializes in translating cannabis terms to the types of keywords those companies use and look for.

"You've got to get those keywords in there," she said.

If you're looking for a job at a grow operation, you'll want to use industry-specific words and phrases such as "hydroponic systems," "greenhouse operations" and "flowering schedules."

The cloudy picture of what recreational pot sales might look like in New York State is becom…

For jobs processing cannabis, try "clean room protocols," "potency testing" and "extraction."

Wannabe budtenders and dispensary workers should use terms such as "retail operations," "strain-specific knowledge" and "pipes and rigs."

The website MarijuanaResumes.com has an extensive list of terms that job seekers can use to search job listings or to match to their own skills.

"You're might already be doing all these things, this just makes it more corporate," Shea said.

Lacking experience? That's OK, so is the industry

New York's medical cannabis industry was made legal in 2016. Recreational cannabis became legal in 2021. Companies in the state know they cannot expect workers to have deep experience in a market that has technically existed for just barely a year, workforce professionals said.

"The Cannabis tech industry is still fairly new, so you don't have to have a cannabis tech background," said Anne Forkutza, head of strategic growth at Dutchie, a cannabis point-of-sale and ecommerce platform headquartered in Oregon.

"Don't just look at a company and write it off as you're not qualified because the cannabis tech industry is so young. There aren't a lot of people who have that experience," she said.

At Dutchie, there are software pros who came in knowing little about cannabis, and cannabis pros who came in knowing little about software. That will be the same across every facet of the industry, job experts said.

"You may have one part of the skills set we can upskill to be more valuable," Shea said.

Even if you don't have industry-specific experience, you likely do have skills that translate, she said.

"You might see people copying and pasting job descriptions from other states where cannabis has been legal. So they'll ask for two years' experience because they've had that time. So when you see stuff like that, don't be scared to apply anyways," Walters said.

Have black market experience? Careful how you list it

If you worked with cannabis while it was illegal, you have what's called "legacy" experience.

That is valuable and not something to be ashamed of, experts said. But you have to be careful about the way you present the information. Hiring someone with a resume that admits to illegal activity can have legal and insurance repercussions for a company, and expose it to unnecessary risk.

Cannabis companies say overwhelmingly that they want to know how much you know about cannabis. Just list it under "hobbies" instead of "job experience." And, once again, use those keywords.

"If you were cultivating cannabis during prohibition, you have a lot of skills that you acquired," Walters said. "You're doing all these things that are skills that can go on your resume. You just need to present what makes you attractive to an employer. So it's just understanding what your skills are and how you write them out."  

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