Melding Marijuana Advocacy With Business and Industry: Q&A With Betty Aldworth

By John Schroyer

As the marijuana industry expands across the nation, cannabis businesses are increasingly seeking qualified and experienced workers.

But this can be a difficult task in a new industry, whether it involves finding a seasoned retail professional to manage a dispensary, a head grower to lead cultivation or a knowledgeable budtender to work directly with patients.

Enter Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), which is launching a job board this week to help student cannabis activists translate their fervor into careers – and in turn help the industry develop a new generation of talent with marijuana-related job experience.

Marijuana Business Daily spoke with SSDP Executive Director Betty Aldworth – who was also a key force behind the drive to legalize recreational cannabis in Colorado – to get her thoughts on how businesses can benefit from the job board, the increase in collaboration between nonprofits and the industry, and lessons learned from the nation’s first adult-use market.

How did the idea for the job board come about?

Almost every time I have a conversation with a member of the industry, they’re asking me for a connection to a student who could become an employee, or connections to the SSDP network for internships or employment opportunities.

We’ve also seen that so many of our students and members are seeking out those kinds of opportunities, so it was a real easy fit for us to decide to put together a job board and a formal internship program to connect the two communities.

How will it benefit companies in the cannabis industry?

SSDP members are incredibly well-equipped to enter this new field with a higher level of commitment and dedication to growing a responsible cannabis industry. But also, through their work with our group, they’ve developed the kind of skills that are going to be necessary to build strong leaders for these businesses.

One of the great things about the students that interact with us is they have an incredibly diverse set of interests. We have horticulturists, social work majors, lawyers, and so many others coming out of the network.

Many of them are going to law school, many are political science majors, many are working on some sort of politically-oriented majors, but so many of them don’t fit those categories at all. It’s important to note that it’s not just current students; we have 16 years of developing alumni members, and these members are already contributing to some of the leading cannabis industry businesses out there today.

Is SSDP working with the business community in other ways?

We are developing an internship program that we’re moving out of the pilot phase this spring to provide a comprehensive internship experience to our student members, and also internship labor to the cannabis industry.

Where do you see the industry going in general from an employment perspective?

The explosive growth of employment opportunities is very exciting for those of us who understand that legal regulated jobs are preferable to unregulated underground work where people are putting a great deal at risk.

There is an incredible expansion of the types of work people might be able to do. We’re seeing an unprecedented inventiveness in terms of new job development and entrepreneurial opportunities. Also, (there are) all of these jobs that are going to ultimately be able to position cannabis more successfully socially in regulatory jobs, public health and education jobs, and other government work.

Do you see an increasing collaboration between nonprofits like SSDP and businesses?

There’s no question that companies in the cannabis industry are part of the drug policy reform movement, whether or not they realize it. They are building businesses that help prove the argument that prohibition is a failure and regulation is a better answer.

When we’re talking about how SSDP is interested in helping employment in the cannabis industry, it’s specifically because we know that SSDP alumni are going to build the best kind of businesses to prove that argument.

Where do you think the rec industry in Colorado and Washington has gone right, and where has it gone wrong?

The job growth is very exciting, the tax revenue is very exciting. The things we said were going to happen are happening, and I’m thrilled with that.

That being said, I’m still concerned about the soul of the industry. I think there’s so much opportunity to do a better job when it comes to building socially entrepreneurial businesses and environmentally progressive businesses.

One of the greatest failures in the way the rules were written is we did not do enough to right the wrongs of prohibition. In Colorado and so many other states, formerly incarcerated people are not permitted to work in the industry. That’s a gross injustice.

And we aren’t doing enough to really raise the bar for people of color, for women. I hope that every law from here on out provides some sort of opportunity for women-owned businesses, businesses run by people of color, and small businesses that don’t require the same kind of capital that so many of these major cultivation centers and retail stores are requiring.

John Schroyer can be reached at