The Green Jobs Rush

The growing industry has a growing demand for talent. Is your dream job out there?

California’s billion-dollar medical cannabis industry has more jobs to offer than just growing and trimming weed.

There are corner offices and executive positions to be filled, too — with more and more to come if the legal industry grows another 74 percent this year.

At the Bay Area Cannabis Career & Job Fair, held recently at Oakland’s New Parish and sponsored by Bloom Farms, dozens of marijuana startups, established pot businesses, and “ganja-preneurs” laid out the welcome mats and help wanted signs to attract the kind of staff needed in today’s legal cannabis industry.

More than 1,000 job seekers showed up to wait in lines hundreds of applicants deep. And most of them have a solid shot at a career.

“2014 was the year of hiring,” said Kristi Knoblich, co-founder of Kiva Confections. The brand’s medicated chocolates are found all over the Bay Area, and that demand requires skilled labor. Last year, the company hired a CFO, a marketing director, and a business development director, all at salaries competitive with corporate America.

You won’t get one of those gigs fresh off the street. If you’re brand new to the cannabis industry, the most readily-available jobs are as brand ambassadors and delivery drivers. But if you’ve developed a cannabis-related skill or two over the years, you might have great options as a salaried employee with benefits or a high-priced consultant.

Looking to go pro in pot? Let’s take a look at the range of jobs and pay rates currently afforded by the legal medical marijuana industry in California, starting at entry-level and going up to the top.  
(NOTE: Pay rates shown reflect general market value, not the pay scales of the specific companies named below. Rates and salaries for any job may vary.)

Brand Ambassadors
$5-10 / referral

Nearly every legal cannabis business is looking for brand ambassadors: basically the old “handing out flyers” job, but digitally modernized to figure out which desired demographic you connect with best.

You pass out “the message of your brand’’ (in the form of glossy handbills) at events, dispensaries or among your social cannabis connections. The cards have codes that get you paid $5-10 per each referral you get. The brand analyzes sales to pay frequently and promote top sellers within the company.

This job works very well for highly social college students. “It’s pretty easy as a supplemental income,” said a brand ambassador for the delivery service Eaze.

Delivery Drivers
$16-20 / hour

Drivers are ubiquitously needed across the Bay Area cannabis industry, whether it be delivering medicinal buds, edibles, oils, or wax products. Companies frequently hiring delivery drivers include SPARC, Eaze, Meadow, and new farm-to-smoker startup Flow Kana. Drivers will need a valid California driver’s license (duh) and a clean driving history, plus a medical cannabis recommendation and car insurance.

Many delivery services offer precise, short delivery times, so drivers’ delivery speed is of the essence. Some of the better-funded delivery services offer full-time driver salaries plus medical and vacation benefits.

$15-20 / hour

Budtender, which barely lost out to “vape” as the 2014 Oxford Word of the Year, is the job behind the counter doling out bud at a licensed dispensary.

But what makes a good budtender?

“High level of customer service, understanding that you’re there to help people find something that works for them and helps them treat their illness,” said Roger LaChance, operations manager at Berkeley Patients Group.  “A resource, someone who’s really familiar with the different products. Especially with all the varietals that come in, season after season.”

So: part sommelier, part health care consultant, and full-time customer service. Think sales with a passion.

“You’re not just selling a product,” LaChance stressed. “You’re building a relationship.”

$15-25 / hour or by weight output

If you’ve trimmed at a grow before, there are dispensaries and other specialized companies who often need that skill on a short but intensive freelance basis.

Trimming companies offer teams of trimmers for hire, and they’ll train you if you haven’t trimmed before.

Mookie Walden is operations manager at NorCal Trimmers, a dedicated cannabis trimming firm.

“We had a client a couple weeks ago that was down in Bakersfield, that needed three pounds shredded by that weekend. so we sent a team down there, got in, got out.” Walden said. “We had another client that wanted 800 pounds. We knocked it out within three weeks, under the timeline.”

Chemical Cannabis Tester
$60,000 – 70,000 / year

Cannabis tester? I’ll take that job! Except I can’t, because I don’t have two undergraduate science credits to rub together. If you do, be prepared for a long day in the lab, sober as a scientist.
Chemical cannabis assessment requires a fundamental knowledge of chemistry and modern chemical measurement tools. Dispensaries and collectives hire chemists to test their medicine to prove their product is safe and efficacious.

“There’s quality control testing, which detects mold, bacteria and pesticide levels,” said Daniel Towns, who handles Web duties for the delivery service Meadow. “Then there is potency testing which measures the  concentration of THC, CBD [cannabidiol], THC-A [tetrahydrocannabinolic acid] and other unique cannabis chemicals.”

The testing industry is only becoming more sophisticated, with labs providing a flower’s terpene makeup as well as a detailed breakdown of cannnabinoids.

Photo by Gabrielle Lurie