Would it surprise you to know that colleges -in increasing numbers- are beginning to offer classes about cannabis? And I know what some of you are thinking, “yeah, I majored in cannabis back in the day as well.” Maybe, and I won’t remark on your college consumption days, but you were not earning college credit and were not taking strategic classes that would lead to employment in an industry that is poised to become the biggest opportunity we have seen since the dot com days. Imagine being in Silicon Valley when the dot com industry was in its infancy. That is what is was like to address the shiny, happy faces that greeted me at 6 p.m. on a Monday night at Stockton University in southern New Jersey.
If you have not heard of Stockton University, it is a mid-sized college with a tight knit, mostly home-grown group of New Jersey students that boasts small classes, teachers who care and a close community. Most classes are no larger than 17 students but the class I addressed had 35 students in it, making it one of the larger classes on campus. This class, Medical Cannabis, is part of a suite of classes that make up a new Minor in Cannabis Studies at Stockton. And it is no surprise, that all of the cannabis classes are popular and wait lists are common. To add to the appeal of this class, the professor worked in the gambling industry (which has remarkable parallels to compliance in the cannabis industry) and ran a cannabis dispensary for several years. He is one of those professors who challenges and engages students, freely admits his years of cannabis use and is professional in every way. From the professorial beard to the Ducati briefcase he looks and acts the part of someone who is successful, comfortable in their own skin and wants to see students succeed; he comfortably defies the stoner stereotype.
So, the evening began with me congratulating the students on being smart enough and lucky enough to pursue studies in a field where they could shape an industry. I also congratulated them on getting their parents to pay for a class on cannabis! I can only imagine how that conversation would have gone with my parents. But times have changed, and cannabis is real, big business where qualified and motivated employees will be in high demand.
When considering the main message I wanted to impart to students, I tried to keep in mind that these are 18 to 22 year old kids and many of them have had limited or no real work experience. Think back to your first job after college. Do you remember if the interviewer asked you where you would like to be in the company in 5 years or 10 years? It’s a very common interview question and it drives me crazy. Without context, how can you even answer that question? The applicant hasn’t worked at the company which means they are not sure how or where they will excel- or even if they want to stay in that job. And because cannabis is such a new industry there will be jobs in 5 or 10 years that we haven’t even thought of yet.
I took the approach of asking them where their passion lies and what are they good at. Much like the fortune cookie game where you read the enclosed fortune and then add the words “in bed,” when regarding cannabis jobs, students should think about what they are good at and then add the words “in/with cannabis.” For example, if you excel at social media, do it with any number of cannabis companies. Are you an artist? How about starting a business like Heidi Keyes in Colorado who runs a successful cannabis business called Puff, Puff, Paint. It has become so successful that she is now franchising her idea. Or what about focusing on cannabis tourism? How exciting it would be to go to Spain, Jamaica, and Canada and organize grow tours, cannabis product demonstrations, cannabis infused dinners and more.
I ended my talk by challenging them to be good cannabis stewards. Here are my big four takeaways:
1) If you are in the cannabis industry, you are in the compliance business. Always follow the rules, keep good records, and surround yourself with people who can help you.
2) Be persistent. You will be doubted, pushed back and questioned. Believe in yourself and build a good support network.
3) Dream and dream big. You are at a point where an industry is being created and you can help build the industry and the culture. And you can pursue and create the job of your dreams.
Instead of focusing on “standard” cannabis jobs such as a grower or budtender, think of all of the industries that need to support a dispensary, grow or processing plant. This may include education, in-home demonstrations, web design, marketing and branding, accounting-and the list goes on and on; embrace the opportunity!