Despite consistent industry expansion through ongoing legalization efforts across the United States and abroad, news of a turbulent job market in the cannabis sector is not hard to find. Layoffs and market exits have become an ongoing issue affecting operators both big and small, with the 2023 Vangst Cannabis Jobs Report citing a 2-percent drop in employment since early 2022. This is the first time a year-over-year decline has been recorded since the beginning of the modern era in 2012 when Colorado’s recreational market opened.
But careers in cannabis are diverse, covering sales, accounting, logistics, cultivation, and everything in between. For those who want to continue working in the sector or join its ranks for the first time, many opportunities still exist.
“If you look at the cannabis market there are five new states that have just legalized on the East Coast,” said Liesl Bernard, chief executive officer at CannabizTeam, an executive search and staffing firm. “All those license holders that are raring to go, they’re all hiring people. We’re actually still seeing a huge uptick in hiring in those states and we’re placing people both on a temporary and a direct-hire basis.”
One avenue a seasoned professional may not think to consider is temp work, which Bernard says is growing in popularity for all types of positions.
“Now with the downturn, a lot of our clients are using flexible staffing, meaning they are using temporary consultants, fractional executives, and direct hire,” said Bernard. “Entering the market as a fractional executive is often a very good way to get your foot in the door. Very often those positions turn into full-time executive roles.”
How to make the transition
Despite the global industry’s relatively young age, its employees have already seen a deluge of pink slips. During this challenging time, there are a number of ways for someone who’s out of work to get attention and ask for assistance.
“We’re seeing a trend of people posting on LinkedIn and being transparent about the fact that they just got laid off,” said Graydon Welbourn, managing partner at White Ash Group, a North American recruiting firm with offices in Toronto and New York. “That’s a good thing, I don’t think there’s any shame in it. It’s unfortunately almost a rite of passage—great people get laid off in the cannabis industry, it just happens.”
According to Welbourn, it’s a good idea for anyone working in cannabis to maintain a presence on LinkedIn due to the platform’s high level of adoption in the industry.
“The next thing is to take some time, I don’t think anyone should rush back into anything,” said Welbourn. “It’s a good time to recalibrate yourself and your career.”
It’s also a good time to work on your resume and make sure it’s up to date. If you’re working with a recruiter or cannabis staffing agency, don’t be afraid to become a squeaky wheel.
“Stay on top of us,” said Welbourn. “Recruiters are dealing with a lot of people all day, so the people that do tend to get put forward more typically are both qualified and the ones we have relationships with. We know they’re reliable, they get back to us, and they pick up the phone when we call.”
Consider a big move
Another career-changing option is to become part of an emerging or even developed market abroad. While federal legalization may still feel out of reach in the U.S., the same can’t be said about the rest of the Western world.
“Germany is by far the strongest market for medical cannabis in Europe in terms of sales and patient numbers consistently growing,” said Nikita Cretu, co-founder and chief operations officer at Lumino, a cannabis recruiting firm in Europe. “After that, I would look at the Netherlands and Switzerland, and that’s inspired a lot by the pilot projects that are going on there.”
He added that the types of available positions will vary by country. In Germany, there’s strong demand for operations, sales, and marketing for places like clinics and pharmacies.
“In the Netherlands, I would say it’s very cultivation-heavy because of cultivation projects that are opening up,” he said. “In Switzerland, it is also very production-heavy and marketing-heavy.”
It may seem like a dramatic move to relocate to a different country, let alone a different continent, but Cretu says he’s seen many people do it.
“It’s definitely role-specific,” he added. “In cultivation, it’s people who love the plant and finally want to operate in a market where they can do what they love.”
For many years, there was a notion that European companies were not interested in hiring North Americans due to the difference in regulations and ultimately operations. However, the European cannabis sector has matured in recent years and any differences are seen as easy to overcome.
As a young industry still searching for more efficient operations, outside experience can be seen as very valuable by many firms.
“What we really try to specialize in is not just hiring from [the existing] talent pool,” he said. “We want to support cannabis people, but we can pull people from other industries with transferable skills and experiences that this industry can extremely benefit from.”