The marijuana Green Rush is creating thousands of new jobs in Colorado and Washington, but that doesn't mean the picture is rosy for people of color.
Angel Swanson and Crystal Jones want to change all that. Angel, a serial entrepreneur and owner of two medical marijuana dispensaries, and Crystal, a diversity recruiter formerly with Boeing, have teamed up to form Green Staffing Solutions, a minority-focused agency providing employment opportunities in Washington's legal cannabis industry for women, Asians, Hispanics and African Americans.
The two women, who have been good friends for 15 years, met each other at church. Both women understand personally how hard it can be for women and minorities to find decent employment. "Many people of color did not go for their I-502 license (Washington's recreational pot license)," Angel explained, "Because of distrust or past history with law enforcement. But that doesn't mean that there are not people with excellent skills and relevant experience that would be very valuable to employers."
So on Jan. 1, Green Staffing Solutions was launched in Seatac, WA, with a goal to provide staffing to the marijuana industry "from top to bottom," Angel explains. The company provides cannabis businesses with temporary and permanent placement in Agriculture, Retail, Warehousing and Administration.
After placing just one ad in Craigslist, and before they even have business cards or a sign on the office door, Green Staffing Solutions has been swamped with more than 100 applicants. Many in the community are excited about being a part of the Green Rush. One 45-year-old applicant is typical in his enthusiasm: "I have been waiting my whole lifetime for this moment."
Do Workers in Weed Have Resumes?
Some do. "We've had quite a few people from California with experience at professional grows or dispensaries," Crystal explains. About 15 percent of workers who have contacted the company have submitted resumes. Most just have relevant experience to share and a story of why they want to get into the pot business. "I had one woman tell me she was good at diffusing tense situations," Crystal said. "I can see where that might come in handy in a retail situation."
The majority of the initial applicants have been experienced workers in their 30s and 40s, and many are passionate about legalization and the opportunity to build a legitimate cannabis industry.
"We make it clear that this isn't a career where you can sit around getting high all day. In fact, you can't get high at work at all. We are looking for a certain level of professionalism," Crystal said.
Who Is The Ideal Canna-Applicant?
"We are looking for people with high school degrees, and preferably some college" Crystal said. "Customer service orientation is desirable, as is some math proficiency. We are looking for a professional demeanor and presentation."
Should Workers Have Medical Marijuana Cards?
Yes, explains Angel, if they want to work in the medical marijuana dispensaries (the semi-regulated access points which operate as collective gardens for doctor-referred patients), the only game in town until June 2014, when Washington recreational pot shops are expected to open. The Washington Liquor Control Board, which is charged with regulating the new industry, has not yet issued any I-502 recreational licenses -- though most companies with pending I-502 applications have already begun their organizational planning and staffing efforts.
Who Should NOT Apply For a Job?
You must be a state resident. No felons. No violent offences, and no theft whatsoever. Green Staffing Solutions, like its corporate counterparts, will do drug testing on job applicants – for everything except for THC (a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).
What Do Jobs In Legal Marijuana Pay?
Entry-level retail jobs start at $11/hour. Drivers typically make $12/hour, and more skilled processors or kitchen employees can make up to $14/hour or more. Eden Labs, a Seattle-based high-tech extraction company servicing the cannabis industry, hires its workers at $15/hour, according to company CEO AC Braddock.
Is there a future in legal weed?
Yes. "Starting out as a budtender is equivalent to starting out as a bartender," Crystal explains. "The career path is to own your own bar – or in our case, your own pot shop. Agricultural workers could end up owning their own grows, and so forth. As the industry expands, those in on the ground floor will grow with it."
Budding Sales: Angel's son Nicholaus Swanson is director of sales. While he has yet to land his first client, there are two strong prospective employers in the pipeline and Nicholaus feels confident that many more will sign up as I-502 licenses are issued.
Are you concerned about being able to go back to the corporate world after working in the marijuana industry?
"No," explains Crystal, "Nothing we are doing is illegal. There is nothing to prevent me from going back [to the corporate world]. And besides, she adds after a pause, "There is very little stigma attached to marijuana here in the Northwest."