They love the product so much that they may have gone to jail for it. Maybe they even have the product tattooed on their neck, which probably wasn’t a great decision in hindsight but still a meaningful testament.
As prosperity arrives for a select few of us, we must not forget our brothers and sisters who are still incarcerated as a result of the Drug War. According to DrugPolicy.Org, more than a half-million Americans were arrested for simple possession in 2015. I’m buying weed cooked into macaroons from a fancy boutique and 10,000 people are suffering the indignities of incarceration for having a bag? It’s not right.
I started trying to pick up any work I could find around the marijuana business. I hit up friends, and friends of friends, and friendly folks who smelled like weed. My first gig was helping a buddy trim the 30 White Widow plants he had grown in his basement.
The modern pot biz, I have frequently noticed, is easily confused with that other California boom industry: tech. And while there is a lot of cross-over between the cannabis and tech industries (such as app’s and web-based delivery systems; an ever-more-perfect product line from PAX; and constantly advancing grow technology) their respective corporate atmospheres couldn’t be any more different. While tech is famed for opulent facilities and lavish spending, the pot business is lean and spartan. A good grow-op will have everything you need to grow a huge amount of great weed, and nothing else. We pride ourselves on efficiency and we measure success in inches, seconds, and cents. A successful pot operation devotes maximum resources to the plants while creating as little extra cost as possible.
Now, I’m a cultivator and a veteran member of the team with an increasingly significant role to play. I’ve worked hard and learned on the job. I’ve thrived with the company and, while it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve loved every second of it.
The work is hard.
I’ve been a pretty avid pot smoker since I moved to San Francisco from Massachusetts in 2005.
Smoking rarely got in the way of work, and work rarely got in the way of smoking.
So before settling for a job that was just barely good enough, I decided I would try to live the dream and get a job in the cannabis industry.
The work falls between agricultural and industrial. It requires a broad and diverse skill set. The gardening is peaceful, but there is also a plumbing and electrical system to operate, critical data to track, and a huge amount of routine janitorial work that comes with growing plants, which–inevitably– includes killing rats.
So until that’s the law of the land, I’m going to keep making noise about it in City Hall and on Facebook (and with some of the resources listed below).
Many folks think that with the pending legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, the fabled Green Rush is approaching it’s peak. While the industry is certainly thriving now, the rush is just beginning. California is set to be the largest cannabis marketplace in the world when it opens in January of 2018. Additionally, the national market place is going to be available soon and even a legitimate international marketplace, eventually.
Growers have been operating within the shifting gray areas of the law for decades around Northern California. With the passage of Prop 64, the business becomes increasingly legal, legitimate, safe, and regulated. The people that have operated at the outskirts of the law– the rogue entrepreneurs, botanists, shamans, and outlaws who dared to grow a forbidden plant (it sounds so ridiculous now, doesn’t it?)–have a year to get square with Sacramento.
I didn’t smoke much growing up on the East Coast, but I took to NorCal weed quickly.
But, as we frequently say around the office, the plants never stop growing. The workload is heavy and unlikely to light up anytime soon as the market-demand for marijuana continues to grow. Fortunately.
We love what we do.
And maybe one day the tides will turn so for as long as I can, I am going to keep trying to grow the absolute best weed that I can.
And while there might still be more patchouli than your average workplace, marijuana growers are some of the greatest people on earth.
It’s also not time to take it for granted that legal weed is the law of the land.
“I ride to work every day on a bus that’s got a smoothie bar, foosball table, and vaping lounge” one of my techie chums tells me, “But I can’t imagine the amenities your workplace must have!”
Then there are the secondary industries that will blossom in the shadow of the industry, from technology to tourism. A renaissance is beginning. Cultivators are coming together to share generations of knowledge and ground-breaking technology. Communities of cannabis-enthusiasts are forming on-line and IRL.
2017 will be my second year in the business, and the last before fully legalized marijuana becomes the law of the land in the Bear-Flag state. Our federal government has fought a war on cannabis for decades and the good guys are finally winning but the fight is far from done.
The business isn’t just for gangsters and degenerates anymore.
No one has “fallen into” the cannabis industry. Growing pot isn’t anybodies “plan B” (unless “plan A” was seriously bonkers). The industry is populated almost entirely by people who are passionately, enthusiastically, fervently devoted to marijuana. Job satisfaction is high (*nailed it*). It’s an inspiring atmosphere, to say the least.
And of course, it wasn’t that along ago when I was an “outsider” myself, and had similar misconceptions. Looking back on the journey now, these are the five most important things I’ve learned about the cannabis industry:
(Flashy cars, sneakers, and dab-rigs excluded).
8 states (and Washington D.C.) have now legalized marijuana for recreational use, and more than 20 other states have medical marijuana laws in place. While support has been strong for marijuana, almost half of the country still lives under prohibition. It is my belief that every American deserves to have access to the medicinal benefits of marijuana, and that no government should be allowed to interfere with a citizen’s right to grow and harvest a plant on their own property for their own usage.
“I’m hoping to work my way up to Head Guy Sitting In A Lawn Chair In The Woods ,” I tell them. And while that description may look a bit like me in that old picture a few lines up (trading the shotgun for a ukelele), it doesn’t look much like the modern grow facilities that now dominate the marketplace.
Over the course of the next few years, I worked with a variety of outdoor growers in the famous “Emerald Triangle” of pot-growing counties in Northern California. I acquired some good knowledge and made some extra cash, but struggled to find a role beyond seasonal work.
I don’t really think it ever was just for gangsters and degenerates, but you know the reputation. When I talk about the pot business, people often imagine a guy with blond dreadlocks who smells like patchouli oil, sitting in a lawn chair in the woods with a pit-bull and a shotgun.
Jeannette: The regulations are really part of what layers on those costs.
Narrator: Licenses to start a farm can cost up to $80,000 alone.
Adrian: I’ve been selling weed since high school. Got arrested for it, was on probation, did the whole nine. When I was getting fingerprinted for my license, it was just really weird, because I was like, man, the last time I’ve gotten fingerprinted, I was going to jail for selling pot, selling weed, and now I’m getting fingerprinted to get a license to sell it legally.
Adriana: It is very white male-dominant. And there’s no reason that that is what it should be.
Will: Nice and fitted.
Will: These are so small.
Jeannette: Expungement of cannabis crimes. Cannabis taxes must go into reparative justice for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.
Jeannette: Specifically to build intergenerational wealth for the communities most harmed by the war on drugs. Those two things come together, a high capital-intensive business, and then the lack of personal capital, personal wealth. And it’s a hard place to start for a Black founder in cannabis.
Adriana: We waited two years for a license.
Narrator: Those in favor of federal legalization believe it could close the capital gap and ease regulations.
Narrator: And then there’s a whole other set of regulations for turning marijuana into edibles. Based in Denver, Wana Brands is one of the top THC gummy makers in the country. It launched two years before Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.
Nancy: Those situations begin to favor people who’ve traditionally had good access to capital.
Narrator: If compliance officers find that rules aren’t being followed, a lot of bad stuff can happen.
Jeremy: With full-scale federal legalization, there would be loans available for minority entrepreneurs. So if you’re a minority entrepreneur and you aren’t connected to these wealthy private investors, you can actually get a loan on pretty favorable terms from a bank.
Will: These are even turning purple. So that’s one indicator that the plant is quote-unquote “finishing up.”
Jeremy: That is a property that you’re paying monthly rent on. It’s sitting there empty. You’re not making any money, but you know, your license application may not go through.
Will: If we were able to export, our sales would definitely open up even more.
Jeremy: A lot of people are really unable to divorce themselves from the stigma that drugs are bad. Cannabis is a drug, so why are we saying it’s OK? No. 1 is simply highway safety.
“As with any agricultural crop,” Adams says, “there are going to be ongoing issues with pest management that you need to look at.” Energy consumption, too, poses challenges few people consider. “Indoor facilities especially have huge electrical bills,” Adams points out. “For a four- to five-thousand square foot place you’re looking at around $30,000 a month. That’s a lot. That’s $360,000 a year for the lights in just a small facility.”
With so much money in the marijuana game, it may be difficult for the independent supplier to stand out – unless independence is seized upon as a virtue.
“The main thing that’s important is to make a boutique brand rather than a mainstream one,” Adams says. “As long as that mom and pop store is able to market to its local consumers, it will stay in business. And people in its area may even buy more than they would from, say, Advil because they know them and trust them and like their brand.”
2. Get to know the logistics.
So what exactly makes for a good professional manager of marijuana for medical purposes?
A marijuana field. Photograph: Stephanie Paschal / Rex Features.
I spoke with Tegan Adams, the programme’s developer and primary instructor, to get a clearer idea of what those eager for education in the discipline can expect.
I f you’ve had enough of your nine-to-five’s wearying toil, perhaps a change of vocation is in order. The Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver can recommend an intriguing alternative starting this September: selling pot.
That’s where Adams and the programme come in. “Having a standardized education system is going to be important to the licensed producers and anyone doing it legally going forward.”
There were, of course, “various growers doing it long before it was legal” but even pot veterans find their expertise distinctly lacking. “People have done the best they can given the resources,” Adams says – but growing marijuana for personal use or illegal sale isn’t the same as running a professional operation. “I’ve noticed that there is a pretty big labor shortage in the marijuana industry,” says Adams. “That’s one of the major problems we’re facing right now: there’s no training anyone can take.”
Legal in Canada … for medicinal purposes. Photograph: Alamy.
4. Build a boutique brand.
She continues: “A lot of people have been growing for 20 years. That’s great. Chances are they are very knowledgeable about growing the plant. But when it comes to regulations, financials and everything to do with exchange, they have no idea how that part works.”
Growing and selling marijuana the proper way is rather more difficult than simply popping a plant under a black light in your closet. Doing it right means planning to grow on a large scale – and planning to deal with large-scale problems.
But in the end, it comes down to loyalty and marketing: “With beer and wine the marketing and branding is important but the flavours really contrast. Marijuana strains vary, but in terms of actual flavouring there may be less variation. So it has to do with branding.”
The course promises to be a rigorous survey of the landscape of marijuana production and sale, educating prospective growers in everything from irrigation to marketing.
One advantage the educated and licensed pot purveyor has over his illegal competitors is consistency. “With legal products you know exactly what you’re getting,” Adams says. “There are pesticide tests to make sure there are no residues on the plants. If you get it from an illegal supplier, those guys aren’t allowed to test their products. You have no idea what they’re putting on their plants. You don’t know how they’re handling it. If you get it from a licensed producer, you know that it’s clean and a lot safer.”
3. Build a client base – and keep them.
Preparing for such eventualities is a key part of any business plan. “If you were going to grow any crop, you would sit down and make your production plan. You would look at how much money you would spend on different input, and also look at how your production and labour are going to work within regulations.” Of particular importance is the MMPR – the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which govern the production of pot for legal use and sale in Canada.
If you’ve got a good product, you’ve got to get it into your customer’s hands and have them come back.
For the prospective grower that means knowing both the production side of the industry as well as the sales: you’ve got to be as good at producing pot as getting someone else to pay for it and smoke it.
“I’ve done a lot of consulting work,” Adams says, “and one of the main issues that I see, especially in startups, is that there’s a knowledge gap between the marketing guys and the people on the ground. The people who work in the facility really need to be able to communicate with the patients and marketing side of things, and vice versa. It’s important that both sides understand each other.”
The shady-looking fellow on the corner will tell you that you hardly need a college diploma to sell weed for a living. But Kwantlen’s new 14-week online course will sculpt aspiring dealers into professionals in a robust – and newly legal – field.
Then there are “environmental monitoring and sanitation issues” unique to the growing of weed. “I think the main challenge,” Adams concludes, “is that marijuana is an agricultural or horticultural crop but it’s being regulated from a pharmaceutical perspective. One of the major challenges is joining the agricultural and pharmaceutical ways of doing things.”