I’m proud to say that I’m an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry. I’ve built my career on taking innovative, data-driven risks to drive profitable sales growth for multiple Fortune 500 companies. So, when I decided to become a corporate-to-cannabis crossover pioneer, I never considered that my decision might leave a permanent black mark on my resume. When I speak to people in the cannabis industry, I often joke that I went from Target to THC, hinting at my previous life as an award-winning merchandising and marketing executive for the big-box retailer prior to joining the marijuana movement. This month marks the first anniversary of my role as a visible advocate and strategy consultant in the legal cannabis industry. With an Ivy League degree and an MBA under my belt, I’m far from the stereotypical stoner—my mission is to lead efforts to transform the perception of the plant, while helping to diversify, legitimize, and stabilize the industry.
Recently, I ran across a Wall Street Journal article that indicated that my chosen divergence from corporate America could mean the end of my successful professional trajectory to-date. Brian Cornell, current chief executive of my former employer, Target, suggested that hiring someone with marijuana industry experience would somehow be counter to the retailer’s family values. Therefore, such experience is not something that would be in the Target management assortment anytime soon. Well, damn. Really?
With an Ivy League degree and an MBA under my belt, I’m far from the stereotypical stoner—my mission is to lead efforts to transform the perception of the plant, while helping to diversify, legitimize, and stabilize the industry.
I don’t regret my decision to enter the burgeoning industry and to become an advocate for cannabis education and legalization. Yet, the WSJ article did make me pause to consider whether it was worth the risk to my corporate career (and reputation) to jump into the business side of the industry so quickly. Honestly, at this point, I don’t know and only time will tell.
However, as I look back on my first year, I must confess there are some valuable lessons that I wish I had learned before I started. Here are a few.
You really don’t have to touch the plant to make money.
The best kept secret is that directly growing or selling marijuana are not the only options for new entrants to the industry. The easiest option by far is to use your current skill set and pivot into working for an already established company. For example, if you are a healthcare professional, you have a huge opportunity to add endocannabinoid knowledge to your practice and you can make additional money as an educator, an area that is wide open in the industry. If you are a business executive, there are already established companies, including ancillary ones, that require human resources, finance, marketing, and operations expertise. If you decide to become an independent consultant, also consider that your clients don’t have to touch the plant either to be within the legal cannabis industry. From hydroponic tanks to aroma-blocking handbags, there are endless product opportunities that go beyond growing, distributing, and selling the plant.
Sharing a joint is not equivalent to signing a contract or agreement.
No different than going to happy hour for drinks with your co-workers or clients, it is not uncommon to end up in a puff puff pass situation with your cannabis business associates. However, if you are a newbie used to only consuming in a very secret inner circle of friends, you may find that you are attributing more to the agreements brokered over that shared joint than you should. While keeping it professional for many cannabis brands can be aligned with keeping it lit—you don’t have to consume to be taken seriously in the industry, nor does every spliff-fueled meeting of the minds lead to a big deal.
Illegal cannabis experience does not equate to legitimate business experience.
As you walk around a cannabis industry event, you will often hear people say, “I have 20 years of experience in marijuana.” While this can be an invaluable experience for a cultivation business, by and large, years of operating underground will not necessarily provide entrepreneurs with legitimate business know-how, and may actually be a hindrance to their progress. Train to win. Determine what you’d like to do in the field and then couple it with the logistical know-how via a certificate training program in small business or immense research. If you’re hiring others, always ask for a resume and references—and follow up on them. More importantly, conducting a background check should be your first course of action if you’re thinking of taking on a client or a partner with a long, checkered history in cannabis.
The industry is still very “White Bro.”
Black and Latino people currently only represent 1% of the legal industry, which is alarming knowing our community’s disproportionate rates of incarceration for illegal marijuana possession. We are being systematically left out of the budding industry via draconian legalization laws and astronomical licensing fees. And while women are more visible as the fastest growing legal users, the marketing is still geared towards white males ages 18 to 25.
I’m grateful that I have been able to use all of my challenges as opportunities for growth. Hopefully, other aspiring cannapreneurs will use these tips to stake their own claims in America’s fastest growing industry. The green rush can definitely use more brown faces.