Five Things You Need to Transition Into a Career in Cannabis

As legislation around legalizing cannabis continues to evolve daily, many are keeping a watchful eye on how to get involved in this emerging market. Whether it be for personal or financial motivations, transitioning into a career in cannabis is not for the faint-hearted. What exactly does it take to be successful in the cannabis industry and what is the best way to position yourself for a career in this fast-growing space?  

Over my 20+ years of recruiting, I have helped many executives transition from one industry to another, and consequently, helped my clients find the perfect individual who would bring a fresh perspective and relevant experience from a related industry. Whether you are considering a move into the cannabis industry or if you are a leader already in the space looking to build out your team, these are just a few items worth considering: 

 1.       Entrepreneurial and resourceful 

A critical competency in any fast-growing industry is the ability to be nimble, flexible and adaptable. Like any company operating in an emerging market, every role may not be well defined. Also, what you do one day may drastically vary from what you do the next. This requires an entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to wear many hats and being comfortable with ambiguity. It's difficult to predict how things will look in three or five years out. Naturally, people who’ve worked in a startup in the past would have an easier transition into this industry. Individuals who’ve taken on challenging special projects within a bigger organization may also have experience that could be of benefit. When positioning for a role in a cannabis-related business, translating how prior experience relates will give you a competitive edge.  

2.       Operating in a Regulated Industry  

It is still a fact that cannabis is not legal at the Federal level and laws differ state by state. Educating yourself on the daily changes in regulations, compliance and legislation will also be critical. Operating in a heavily regulated industry is a challenge and those coming from similar spaces, like pharmaceuticals, tobacco, and alcohol, may transition more easily into the cannabis industry.  

3.       Building Relationships 

The world is becoming smaller and the cannabis industry, not unlike many others, is relationship-centric; people want to work with people they know and trust.  Anyone coming in must understand how the legality and societal misconceptions of cannabis use affect those who operate within it. Authentic and meaningful relationships are important and take time to build, but once you’ve established them, you can make more of an impact.  

4.       Risk Tolerance

The saying “where there is a risk there is reward” is very applicable here. The cannabis industry is an emerging market and there is potential for big wins and big losses. There may be risks to entering the industry both a personal and professional level. There are a lot of misconceptions about cannabis and its consumers. Between media publicity and personal interactions with people who use the plant both for medical and recreational purposes, there is a lot of noise and inaccurate information. Test your risk tolerance and decide if the professional risk is worth the reward.  

5.       Advocacy  

Unlike other emerging industries, there are some intense, historically deep-rooted misconceptions about cannabis.  As a result, you need to be aware that you will be part of an industry going through major transformation, expansion and even consolidation. The passion within the industry is rooted in advocacy and in the collective understanding of the real and positive impact cannabis can have on people’s lives. Anyone entering the cannabis industry must also be aware of the advocacy for legalization aspect to the business. Companies may want to understand your connection to and understanding of the space not just on a professional level but a personal level.  

 Over the last two years since Waterstone launched our Cannabis recruiting practice, we have learned and are continuing to learn what it takes to build meaningful partnerships in this industry. Whether you are being recruited or doing the recruiting, a passion for the industry, a deeper understanding and a high level of learning agility is required. Cannabis is an emerging, fast-growing and evolving industry. It has the potential to cause massive disruption to traditional businesses like the pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, CPG among others due to the vast applications, upside revenue potential and job creation.