The Cannabis Industry - An Insider’s Journey

By Lisa Mae
The cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing industries in not only America, but also the entire world. Cannabis expert Lisa Mae takes us on a first-person journey through it.

I have been working in the cannabis industry for over four years. I moved from a non-legal state to Colorado in 2014, but it wasn’t my plan to dive into what was then an exploding new industry.

I had been working in the field I went to college for — psychology — and was feeling burned out and underpaid. Since I’ve always loved a challenge, I decided to get my MED badge (a state-licensed badge that requires renewals every 2 years via the Marijuana Enforcement Division) and see if I could find a job. Within two weeks of obtaining my badge in the mail I was selling cannabis to medical customers at a tiny mom & pop shop in Denver.

I couldn’t believe this was my job!

At this medical shop, I met a wide variety of cannabis enthusiasts. Most had been long-time consumers and were just as excited as I was that we were now able to sell and embibe legally. Medical marijuana had been legal in Colorado since 2009, so when I started there was already a decent market of edibles, elixirs, and other cannabis-infused products for patients to choose from.

I had patients from all walks of life, with all sorts of ailments. Younger folks who were looking to manage their anxiety, get help sleeping, or just relax at the end of the day. And older folks who used salves for arthritis and other aches and pains. We even sold CBD-infused dog treats for my patients’ pups. At one point, my bosses were even able to allow their patients to consume on site — a try-before-you-buy system, if you will.

But when the state of Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, the whole system tightened up. No consuming on site, no consuming on the street. The only place you could, and still can, consume cannabis legally is behind closed doors. Even at the annual 420 rallies in Denver you risk a citation for sparking a joint.

During my downtime I kept the shop neat or trimmed buds and watched Netflix. It sounds nice, and I did enjoy my job, but high turnover is commonplace in the cannabis industry, as with many industries. During my nine months at that shop I saw five other employees come through. Eventually I was their only employee and was doing the job of three people. They couldn’t offer me health insurance or time off, so I started looking around.

It didn’t take long for me to land a job at a much larger scale dispensary. This company could offer me consistent hours, benefits, and greater opportunity for advancement. I was hired as a compliance specialist, and was based out of their large-scale grow. My job was to track inventory across their many stores compared to their daily sales.

Colorado utilizes a compliance system called METRC, and ability to use and understand it is a big deal for potential employers. From “seed to sale,” everything containing cannabis gets its own code made up of letters and numbers that follows the plant throughout its entire life. Edibles, oils, salves, vape pens, joints, you name it. Each gets its own identifier.

When a store receives a shipment, someone has to enter the shipment's identifiers into METRC or risk losing their licensure. When a grower plants a new batch of seedlings, they must start a whole new batch of identifiers. Most dispensaries have their own METRC specialist, or even a team of them, just to make sure this is all correct. Licenses cost thousands of dollars, and many dispensaries have gone under due to non-compliance issues.

I had never grown marijuana before, and soon became fascinated with that part of the building. They had over-hired for my compliance team, so I began working a few hours in the grow to make up for lost hours. I was doing basic grow maintenance: cleaning, transplanting plants, helping with harvests, and other plant work.

As things went along, I began to really enjoy the labor and care that the grow required, and soon enough I had transferred from my original desk job to working full-time in the grow. After a few months I was promoted to a horticulturalist, and with a team of about 10 people we tended to several thousand plants — from clones to harvest.

The company was expanding fast, and new opportunities arose. I applied to be a supervisor of the new hire team at the grow and started moving up the ladder.

In my new role I trained and managed a team of people new to the grow. One of the best and most challenging aspects of the cannabis industry is the wide variety of people it attracts. I’ve met folks who have been growing almost their entire lives, and others, like me, who had no experience at all.

As with any industry, finding that balance as a supervisor can be difficult.

Growing at a large scale grow is not the same as growing on your own. In order to succeed, you must be willing to learn and adapt to new environments and new methods. I have had to let very experienced growers go because they refused to adapt to the company’s methods.

Now, three years later, I am in a management role at the same grow. I am responsible for hiring, and managing, that same new hire team I started on.

I love my job, and I love the management team I work with. We have had countless challenges over these past three years. Running one of Colorado’s largest indoor grows has been nothing short of a privilege, and I am grateful everyday for my job.

Like I said, I never, ever would have thought I’d be doing this even five years ago, but life has a funny way of surprising you. I look forward to what the future brings to this industry, particularly on the CBD front as we're just scratching the surface with the benefits cannabidiol can provide - from skincare to seizures. If it’s anything like what I’ve experienced over these last four years I know it’ll be anything but boring!

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