We spoke with Susan Squibb, new marijuana advice columnist of The Denver Post, on the eve of Colorado legalizing the recreational use of the drug.
Tell us about your new job as the marijuana advice columnist with The Denver Post.
It's a freelance position, starting in January. For the past year, I have been writing a marijuana manners column, "Ask Lady Cannabis," for The Hemp Connoisseur.
What are your major duties in this role?
I will write a weekly column answering questions related to marijuana use, appropriate social use and changing cannabis laws and regulations. The challenge is keeping current with the social reality and the local ordinances that are guiding this societal transition from marijuana consumption being an illegal activity to being legally recognized.
What kind of training and background best prepares someone considering a career in legal cannabis?
The legal cannabis world has an increasing number of career opportunities. Now that the largest cash crop in America is legal, every profession is needed. Lawyers are needed to know the intricate laws and regulations and guide businesses in compliance. Service industries for building warehouse production, kitchens and dispensaries. HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and security systems are in high demand. Horticulture specialists, soil and hydroponic growers, crews of trimmers are needed to process the flowers. Chemists and lab techs are needed in emerging lab-testing facilities. Sales and marketing positions are needed, and I expect to see agricultural markets and commodities trading, and industrial Hemp develop in the next few years.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a pioneering worker in the cannabis sector?
I stepped into the cannabis world in 1996. I was an idealistic college student at CU-Boulder paying for my degree by scooping nutritious hemp cookies for a local activist. It was an educational project around hemp food. I really liked the concept and I stayed around after I earned my Anthropology degree. I developed the hemp food project into a company, naming it Hemp Sources Inc, because I wanted the name and the company purpose to be very clear.
From 2004-2010 I organized and managed a booth inside Red Rocks Amphitheatre selling hemp ice cream sandwiches. A lot of customers would confess their pro marijuana opinions to us at the booth. Somehow people could tell a friendly stranger their favorable opinion about marijuana reform, but they were too scared to talk to the people in their lives.
There are many financial challenges. I worked for an infused-product manufacturer, compliant with Colorado state law, that had its bank account closed due to bank concerns over violating federal money laundering statutes. I was paid in cash every payday, and I was nervous carrying that much cash, especially in the marginal neighborhood where I worked.
As Colorado goes legal with recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, what do you see as the biggest challenges to this emerging industry?
No access to traditional banking is a huge problem for cannabis businesses. There is resolution to this on the horizon. It is a huge public safety issue; It's not typical to have a cash only business these days. No reliable access to banking has stifled growth.
Another challenge is professionalizing the industry. Business practices are refining, and business communication is improving as business professionals are entering the emerging industry.
It is frustrating to look for work opportunities and most help wanted ads are relatively anonymous. You have no idea where you are applying to work.
Many positions for budtender sales positions still include physical, age or grooming requirements for women that are inappropriate.
It is challenging to keep current with rules. Compliance with state regulations can be stressful.
Today, the opportunities are seemingly endless. This is a very special time.