In 2009 I had to voluntarily leave my career because I became too sick to function normally. To make a very long story short, after a misdiagnosis, two major surgeries and four years later, I regained my health but lost everything in the process except my saintly, incredible wife.
I used to be a workaholic; seven years without employment had just about destroyed me completely at that point. My work gap, health history and age all worked mightily against me in my efforts to get a job – any job. Then, almost when I was ready to give up altogether, the medical cannabis industry started up in Illinois in the form of a 3-year pilot program. By 2015 I had still not gained employment. I have been using cannabis for over 30 years and had accumulated a fair amount of knowledge and experience. This was it! I saw this soon-to-be medical cannabis pilot program as my savior. A new industry to start a second career and allow me to get back on my feet!
I approached this effort as if life and death were at stake, and in some ways, this was no exaggeration. I identified a common-sense, multi-pronged approach to seeking employment in the medical cannabis industry, which I’m going to share with you because it was highly effective. However, I encountered many other unpredictable, mostly human factors during my job search that were very damaging and worked against me, which I’m also going to share with you, along with suggestions on how to handle, and, in some cases, avoid these unfortunate realities.
A Preparation Strategy
Here is my multi-pronged approach that I followed to position myself as the best possible candidate for the job of medical cannabis dispensary agent.
- Become a medical cannabis patient
You should consider registering as a medical cannabis patient, if you qualify. Many cannabis businesses recognize that cannabis users are often best equipped to help patients because of their firsthand knowledge and experience with the products they are recommending as well as their relatable insights about what it’s like to live and manage an illness with cannabis.
- Internalize the specific program laws and patient application processes for your state’s medical cannabis program.
Often overlooked by job seekers in this industry, this step is essential and your knowledge in this area will show prospective employers that you go beyond the minimum and are committed to working in this industry. Moreover, you will leverage this knowledge frequently in your dispensary job.
- Be cautious when seeking out formal medical cannabis training
In my former job I was a project manager and my expertise was ‘instructional design’, which is a fancy word for training development. I possess deep knowledge in adult learning theory and practice so I can recognize when training is relevant and valuable and when it’s not. The vast majority of cannabis education I accomplished online or in the classroom was overpriced garbage. Any 1-day seminars are a total waste of money. It’s just a money grab that provides mostly useless, general information. My subjective recommendation is to learn about any of the basics you don’t know without paying someone. There are many accurate, thorough cannabis education resources online. Those in the medical cannabis industry are realizing that real therapeutic value lies in targeted cannabinoids and terpenes. Therefore, I would recommend that if you are going to pay for any training, consider valuable, cutting edge training on terpenes and cannabinoids offered by the Trichome Institute. You might also consider taking a CPR Certification course if you’re working in a medical dispensary, as I did.
NOTE: I do not have any business or personal connection to the Trichome Institute.
- Learn about the popular medical cannabis strains and products in your state.
It’s very beneficial if you can speak to some of your state’s most popular strains and products in your interviews. It’s even more valuable if you can associate products with their cultivators. Gain lots of product knowledge.
- Tailor your resume for the medical cannabis industry
This activity is mandatory and the difference between a business taking you seriously or not. If you don’t customize your resume to highlight your cannabis knowledge and experience, your resume will most likely end up in the shredder.
Lessons Learned: Before the Interviews
From my own job seeking and dispensary consumer experiences, I can tell you that each business is different and often dramatically so, from the physical space, the workflow, their philosophy of care, their cannabis knowledge, their level of customer service, to their pricing and everything in between. Therefore I recommend that before you submit your resume to any dispensary, do the following:
- Research the dispensaries to which you want to apply. Take a very close look at their website and social media sites. Find out who the owners are and their prior professional backgrounds, if at all possible. After all, some of these businesses are owned by former police and judges. Do you want to work for an owner who used to lock people up for cannabis and now profits off selling cannabis to sick people? Maybe that’s a non-issue for you and maybe it’s not, but that sort of information is often helpful to know. Read some of their reviews, but know that these businesses covet their online reputations more than anything else, so don’t take much stock in these reviews, which are sometimes solicited in exchange for patient discounts or they are outright fake positive reviews. Seeing-is-believing in this industry. Facebook and Twitter can be good resources to seek out patients’ (and even former employees’) honest, unfiltered dispensary experiences and opinions.
- Visit the dispensaries to which you want to apply, before you apply. Do a ‘prelim recon’, as I call it. Before you actually submit your resume to any business you’re interested in, go check them out. Observe the outside environment, such as the parking, lighting and security. Once inside, take note of their workflow. That is, what’s the process that the consumer goes through from beginning to end? Note the level of professionalism exhibited throughout your experience. Take care to observe how the employees interact amongst each other: Are they professional? Do they seem happy or miserable? Do you see them gossip, whisper or talk about patients behind their backs? Is it a cohesive or chaotic environment? Are patients treated respectfully? If you observe a complaint, how did they handle it? Are their educational documentation and promo materials accurate and useful? And don’t forget to take note of the overall cleanliness.
- Prepare for your interviews in targeted ways
Through your research, identify your prospective employers’ sweet spots and then play to them. For example, you’ve noticed that Dispensary ABC has an extensive online strain database that they promote on their website so you prepare to talk about how it might benefit patients and employees. Or, perhaps the dispensary you’re interested in is owned by a cultivator. In that case, it would be wise to learn about that cultivator’s line of products so you can speak to them. Apply this same approach when identifying questions you plan to ask prospective employers. A must-ask question you should pose to every business owner: Why did you decide to get involved in the medical cannabis industry? Another great inquiry is to ask about training. Those dispensaries that are in it for the money will be tight wads with paying for any formal training, and it will show in their dismal, uninformed patient care. And ask if there are any silent partners. Often times, the silent partners own the largest stake of the business. If the interviewer stumbles on any of these questions, tread lightly.
- Do NOT disclose any valuable skills or assets that you don’t want the business to leverage
I have a very long and varied work history, a few college degrees and a skill set in technology, writing, training, business, etc. Because I included most of my skills and experience on my resume, prospective cannabis dispensary employers could not help themselves and I quickly found myself being asked to do things way beyond my paygrade. Here’s a real world example: I shared my cannabis education assets with a prospective employer and they attempted to steal all of the documents wholesale. I pushed back hard and threatened legal action. I had to consult with Intellectual Property lawyers while the wealthy owners mocked my efforts and taunted me with their theft. In fact, this dispensary still stole the titles of my learning assets verbatim as an act of defiance and passive-aggressiveness. Chances are good that you’ll encounter unethical scum like this, so take this heads up seriously.
Do yourself a favor and carefully filter your skills and experience on your resume to include only those you want the employer to know about. Do not disclose advanced skills or any personal assets that might be of value but have nothing do to with the job, unless you want to become a computer programmer or business consultant for $12/hour.
Lessons Learned: During the Interviews
The number one common denominator that I encountered in my interviews in the cannabis industry was: DECEPTION. Unfortunately, unlike any other industry I’ve ever worked in, and I’ve worked in many blue- and white-collar industries in my 50 years, the deception and lies were much more prevalent than I’d ever witnessed before in my professional life in any setting. Here’s a real world example: At the beginning of an interview with a dispensary, the owner took the first 15 minutes to explain in great detail why they had been forced to leave their original location a few months prior. This person took much care in weaving a very detailed story about how the other tenants protested that a cannabis business was moving in and they were forced to relocate. None of it settled right with me since it seemed like a lot of overkill to make a point. I was offered the job that same day I interviewed and I accepted. A few days later I saw in a local newspaper that this dispensary stiffed their landlord for $50K and, according to the owner who was quoted for the story – the same owner who interviewed me, they abandoned the original location because another dispensary was just a few miles away and they did not want the close competition. I was clearly deceived. I got a response from their lawyer a few days after I asked for clarity that said only, “Good luck with your future”. In hindsight, I should have followed my gut, which was right all along.
The point I’m trying to drive home with this example is this: Take very little stock in what an interviewer says to you in this industry and instead only take seriously what an interviewer shows you or information that you can easily validate. I often encountered consummate exaggerators in my interviews. Frankly put: business owners who were professional bullshitters. Oh, the tales they weaved. If your gut is telling you you’re being lied to during an interview, ask a probing question and see if they sweat. If they squirm, take note of this deception and think carefully about this behavior after the interview.
Lessons Learned: After the Interviews
You’ve done all the hard work and really nailed the interview (Don’t forget to send out a 1-2 sentence thank you email to the folks who interviewed you.) A week later you get an email from the business owner telling you they’d like to offer you a job. I was offered three separate jobs in the medical cannabis industry in Illinois and never received a written formal offer for any of them. Instead, I was jerked around for weeks and even months by each business for a variety of unethical reasons. One business offered me a job managing their entire front end and then kept making excuses and delays about providing a formal offer letter. Why? Well, because they were trying to get me to do advanced, out-of-scope work (web development?!) and didn’t want to define the job until I did this valuable work for them at $11/hr. After 3 months I declined the position. The dispensary owner replied with, “What offer? I never gave you a job offer?”. A sickening head game to play on a medical cannabis patient who’s just trying to get his life back. Do NOT do one second of work, do not start any training, do not engage the business at all as an employee until you get a formal offer in writing. That does not mean an informal email or telephone call. A formal offer should include at a minimum a formal job title, start date, salary, and a summary of any benefits. After you sign it, keep a copy of it for your records. Only after you’ve finalized the offer letter should you start doing any work for the business. If the business drags their heels on the offer letter even after you nudge them, seriously consider declining the offer. Past behavior truly is the best predictor of future behavior.
Wrapping It Up
There are some really great, earnest business owners and employees in the cannabis industry doing their best to help patients. And there are also some unethical, greedy people in the industry who just want to get wealthier and often see humans as merely objects of opportunity. Be prepared, do the research, follow your gut (if it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t), don’t make any hasty decisions, get it all in writing and be prudent.