In recent years, the legalization of cannabis for medical and adult use in states across the United States has opened doors for new careers—and career advancement—throughout the industry.
Since California became the first state to allow marijuana sales in 1996 through a medical marijuana program, 38 more states (and Washington, D.C.) have passed medical marijuana legislation and 18 have passed adult-use laws. In addition, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp products, leading to many cannabidiol (CBD) tinctures and edible offerings. However, some states still restrict the possession and production of CBD hemp.
Career Opportunities in the Cannabis Industry
As with many industries, the job market is hot at cannabis companies. Cannabis industry-specific recruiters such as Vangst, CannabizTeam Worldwide, and Careers Cannabis, in addition to more common hiring sites like ZipRecruiter and Indeed, currently list hundreds of cannabis industry jobs on their sites, from gig workers to personnel trained in food safety at facilities that make edibles throughout the U.S.
CannabizTeam Worldwide, which reports more than 320,000 people employed in the cannabis industry, expects this number to expand to 500,000 jobs by 2024. Vangst puts that number at around 900,000 by the end of the 2020s.
In recent months, food safety experts have also expressed concerns about turnover amongst food safety personnel and highlighted the need for continued recruitment and mentoring. With jobs opening up—from harvesters to executives and managers at cannabis edibles companies—the outlook for cannabis careers brings good news for those looking for career changes and opportunities to advance. This includes avenues for food safety professionals looking for a career boost.
Food Safety Training
Hiring practices can vary widely in different industries and even at companies within the same industry. Still, human resource experts agree that skills training is critical when bringing on new talent. Indeed, choosing the right person for the job will bring a solid background to the role, but it’s incumbent on the company doing the hiring to ensure that employees have proper training when they’re on the job.
At non-cannabis food companies, food safety training fulfills regulatory mandates outlined in the Food Safety Modernization Act, including the requirement to have a trained preventive controls-qualified individual on staff at every facility. A lack of federal oversight has led to varied state cannabis regulations with respect to current good manufacturing practices (GMPs), hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), and preventive controls. Training employees to understand hazard analysis and preventive controls can ensure that each facility operates at a high standard for food safety.
Management and food safety teams at companies making cannabis-infused edibles should strive to instill a culture of food safety in new employees. Including training on food safety expectations for each position can help foster a food safety culture and position employees for professional growth.
How to Climb the Corporate Ladder
Experience counts, until it doesn’t. In most cases, a job candidate who has worked in the industry (with good references) will stand out among candidates without a similar background. With so many jobs projected to be available in the coming years, however, most candidates will compete against others who are also new to the industry.
Many seeking to advance their careers can do so, even if it’s crossing over from a non-cannabis position. For example, a member of the food safety team at an FDA-registered company that makes candy or baked goods is well prepared for supervisory and quality control roles at a company manufacturing cannabis edibles. Additionally, those with experience in company departments such as IT, marketing, and accounting will find that similar roles at a cannabis company require many of the same skills.
Here are some tips for employees climbing the corporate ladder in the cannabis industry:
- Research, research, research. The cannabis industry continues to reinvent itself as legalization spreads, and each state brings its own regulations for food safety and other oversight. Someone seeking career advancement at a company in another state must learn about the similarities and differences in the rules before the job interview.
- Certification needed? Some states require employees in specific roles to undergo training and certification. Background checks are also standard in roles that involve handling and accessing cannabis and cannabis-infused products.
- Find a mentor and network. The cannabis industry is still relatively new, and mentors can provide valuable advice and guidance when seeking a promotion or career advancement. It’s also smaller and more close-knit than many other industries, and networking with others could pay off with referrals and recommendations from colleagues.
- Prepare for the future. Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, there are no FDA food safety mandates for edibles; however, experts in the industry believe that it’s just a matter of time before Congress legalizes the drug at the federal level, bringing around nationwide regulatory measures. Therefore, companies that offer access to training and employ FSMA-compliant policies (including preventive controls-qualified individual [PCQI] training) will be ahead of competitors. Likewise, someone who is already a PCQI could find themselves in demand.
Robust food safety training doesn’t have to be complicated. When 100% online training is available, there’s no need to send new hires to in-person classes in another city or delay food safety duties while waiting for classes to be available. Look for a web-based platform that offers food safety training built specifically for the cannabis industry and for all employees—from the front line all the way up to management.
Dr. Birmingham is chief operation officer and vice president of research and instructional development at ImEpik, an online food safety training company that caters specifically to the cannabis industry.