Six Tips for Hiring, Retaining Employees in the Cannabis Industry

By John Schroyer

Although the marijuana industry is booming, the vast majority of cannabis-related companies are still small businesses employing anywhere from a handful of workers to a couple dozen.

So hiring – and retaining – the right employees is absolutely critical. Each worker plays a hugely important role in the success of the company, unlike at big firms where employees who aren’t a great fit can get by.

With that as the backdrop, Marijuana Business Daily talked to three staffing professionals that work with the cannabis industry to get some tips on how to hire and keep great employees.

Don’t Wait For Talent to Come to You

Hiring shouldn’t be a passive activity. Simply posting a position on Craigslist or one of the dozens of cannabis-related job boards online often leads to a drawn-out hiring process, as businesses get inundated with applications from unqualified candidates.

Instead, focus on networking, attending industry events and conference, hiring a staffing agency to help or tapping professional organizations such as Women Grow.

“You can find an untapped gold mine of talent with demonstrated commitment to marijuana through nonprofits,” said Shaleen Title, a partner at THC Staffing Group.

She mentioned Students for Sensible Drug Policy in particular, which works to help find college students internships and jobs in the industry.

Look Outside the Marijuana Trade

When it comes to mid-level or executive-level hires, consider recruiting experienced professionals from other industries who have backgrounds that will likely translate well to the cannabis industry.

“If you think about the food and beverage industry and putting that together with consumer packaged goods, and add in retail, and manufacturing and agriculture, that’s the cannabis industry,” said Kara Bradford, co-founder of Viridian Staffing. “Any of the positions in any of those industries transfers pretty easily over to the marijuana industry.”

Mitch Anderson, a managing partner of Global Recruiters of Chicago, said there are also skill sets that transfer over from security, extraction, processing and operations-related jobs. Edibles companies in particular can look to the food and beverage industry for skilled workers who may be interested in transitioning into cannabis.

“Food safety is going to be really key to the industry, and the vast majority (of those professionals) won’t know that the industry exists for them, and that the opportunities are viable with that skill set,” Anderson said. “Easily 90% of food scientists are not thinking about the cannabis industry.”

Make Your Company Attractive

Bradford, who has been helping cannabis companies recruit employees for nearly two years, said there’s huge demand in particular for chemists, chief operating officers and master growers. Because the cannabis industry is still in a relative infancy and carries a stigma, it can be particularly challenging to find qualified candidates to fill such roles.

Which is why being flexible and figuring out other ways to make a position attractive can also be key. Part of that is maintaining a good reputation as an employer. That means companies need to be willing to pony up for decent salaries, offer benefits and at the very least create a positive work environment.

“If you want to have people come to you and make yourself a more attractive employer, make sure you have practices that make you an employer that people want to work for,” Bradford said. “We’re still a relatively small industry. Word of mouth travels. People talk. They’ll hear that you’re a great employer to work for.”

Don’t Skimp on Training

The marijuana industry is extraordinarily unique, and getting employees to understand how it operates is key to their long-term success, said THC Staffing Group’s Title.

Therefore, providing training on more than simple job duties can be crucial in getting an employee vested in both the company and the industry.

“One business we know who hires top talent from other fields makes sure that all new employees attend a marijuana business conference within their first few months, both to attend the sessions and also to network and a get a sense of the industry,” Title said. “This is a smart way to immerse new hires into the culture and to invest in their professional development.”

Training should also last longer than just a few days, she said, as a way to make sure commitment to the position outlasts the “honeymoon phase.” In other words, businesses should look at new hires as an investment and should put money into both the person and the job.

Be Careful When Interviewing

In all likelihood, the majority of cannabis retailers have had experience with job applicants who simply love marijuana, but don’t exactly have an outstanding resume. That’s an easy red flag to look for, Anderson said.

But there are also cannabis enthusiasts who do have worthwhile skill sets that can be useful to various businesses.

“There’s a large segment of people who fit that category, and some will be successful contributors, and some will just be along for the ride,” Anderson said. “So some of it will be separating the wheat from the chaff. There are a lot of professional individuals seeking out companies.”

So look for candidates with experience that is at least transferable to the marijuana industry – anything from customer service to professional horticulture. And note that a lack of professional experience in general can be a major problem. Many grow operations have learned this the hard way by bringing on someone who has been growing at home for years but hasn’t held a regular job.

On top of that, companies need to be careful when training the people who will interview candidates so they don’t overstep professional boundaries or even violate discrimination laws by asking about religion, family, marriage status and such topics.

Companies also need to make sure they communicate the legal status of the marijuana industry to applicants.

“You’d be surprised how many candidates that I talk to that think just because they’re in Colorado that the federal government can’t come after them,” Bradford said. “Seeing how they react when they hear that information is also important.”

Stay Competitive on the Salary Front

As with every other industry, there are several levels of compensation, depending on where an employee fits into a company.

Just like with most anything, you’ll likely get what you pay for. So be willing to shell out for worthwhile and talented employees, rather than seek take advantage of people who are attracted by the lure of the industry and will work for peanuts.

Entry-level employees, such as novice budtenders or customer service representatives, should be paid at least $15 an hour, Bradford said.

Above that is often still an hourly wage, she said, but there are salaried mid-level employees with more responsibility who can earn between $15 to $20 an hour, or even between $35,000 to $60,000 a year.

Management-level employees usually earn at least $60,000 a year, Bradford said, but that can vary with the company and the market, depending on how competitive or select a region or business is.

At the upper level, Bradford said, a good number of CEOs and other executives can command six-figure salaries and compensation packages, although that’s still rarer in the marijuana industry than in other industries.

John Schroyer can be reached at