Here Are All the Ways You Can Get Rich in the Legal Weed Market
Legalization in parts of the US and Canada is going to increasingly present big opportunities for entrepreneurs who like getting stoned. Here's how to get your slice of the multi-billion dollar market.
This one little plant has sparked an entire industry full of lucrative careers. Photo via Flickr user Rainer Vandalismus
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
A few weeks ago, when I was interviewing reporter-turned-pot activist Charlo Greene at a weed-themed ball, she hinted that I should ditch my job and follow her lead.
"If you were to transition what you're doing right now in journalism to the cannabis industry, there are a number of jobs you could apply for. And what's even greater, there's even more opportunity for you to create exactly what you want to do because there's so much need," she told me, at which point I interjected, "Are you trying to recruit me?" "Maybe," she replied.
I'd been asking Greene what Canadians could expect to come out of legalization. In short, her answer was: money and opportunity.
"Every time you look up there's another headline about some new innovation or product or service that's out there and it creates real value... We're just at the tip of the iceberg now."
The event drew people who worked in TV, education, finance, real estate—all looking to cash in on cannabis. The move makes a lot of sense. Weed may not be 100 percent legal yet, but once it is, it's expected to generate $5 billion [$3.6 billion USD] in annual revenue in Canada. In anticipation, plenty of above-board (and semi-above board) jobs are already cropping up, some of which pay serious cash.
On the corporate side of things, people working as consultants or in quality assurance for licensed producers are cracking six figures. Meanwhile budtending and retail positions are in line with what you'd expect from comparable service sector jobs. VICE asked people in the industry about the opportunities that are available now.
Health Canada Inspector
Salary: $71,591–$96,000 [$52,000–$69,000 USD]
Being a Health Canada inspector is as legit as it gets. You are a narc—and as such you're paid very well. According to postings obtained by VICE, these jobs require you to suss out "regulated parties who perform activities such as importation, production, and distribution of narcotics, targeted substances, restricted drugs, marijuana for medical purposes, industrial hemp, controlled drugs, and precursors." Basically, this means you visit legal grow-ops and make sure everything follows the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
You need a science degree and one to two years of experience in the areas of "regulation and/or production and/or quality control of drugs, medical devices, natural health products, consumer products, pesticides, tobacco, food, plants."
As a perk, as if getting paid to tour weed factories wasn't sweet enough, you get to travel lots.
Salary: $100,000 and up [$72,000 USD and up]
The master grower, or "pot whisperer" as one newspaper put it, oversees every aspect of growing for a licensed producer including selecting strains and seeds, cloning, potting, transplanting, feeding, trimming, harvesting, packaging, and inventory. The space can be massive—Tweed Inc., one of Canada's largest suppliers, has a 30,000-square-foot production area—so they're split up into rooms managed by section growers.
Tony Lacombe, Tweed's brand new master grower, told VICE he has no academic expertise in agriculture. He's just been growing weed for a hella long time.
"All of my experience comes from practice: hands-on experience/experimentation during the [Marijuana Medical Access Regulations] era," he said. "Since this is an erupting industry, I feel the job depends more on adaptability, logic, and good communication." Black market growers would probably be ideal candidates, but those who've been busted are fucked—you need a clean record to work at an LP. Jordan Sinclair, communications manager at Tweed, wouldn't reveal the salaries of employees there for fear of getting characterized as "corporate pigs" and "f*#$ing profiteers." But an industry-watcher who spoke to VICE said master growers at major firms can bank around $250,000 [$180,000 USD] a year.
Director of Quality Assurance
Salary: $100,000 and up [$72,000 USD and up]
Buying weed on the black market means when you end up with a shitty batch, you're left with no real recourse. It's frustrating as hell, but calling out your dealer when there aren't many other options is kind of like biting the hand that feeds you. That's what makes legal weed and its promises of quality control so appealing. Tweed claims its quality control measures go beyond Health Canada requirements. Everything from growing instruments, to the facility, to the plants themselves, is tracked and tested. As an example of how thorough the process is, production rooms at Tweed are monitored "to help ensure only the cleanest air enters" and products are tested "for pathogens that could be contracted through oral consumption or inhalation—so you know there is no risk regardless of your method of delivery."
Tom Shipley, who performs this role at Tweed, was previously a Health Canada researcher who worked in toxicology and later evaluated vaccines. Shipley told VICE weed's dubious legal status "can act as a research barrier or deterrent, limiting the number of peer-reviewed publications on the topic."
In addition to overseeing everything that goes down at the facility, it's his job to investigate consumer complaints.
Salary: $11.25/hour and up [$8 USD/hour and up]
This job sounds dull as fuck, but it's a pretty straightforward way to make a buck. Suited up in coveralls, a mask, and goggles, you trim buds for legal growers, removing the sticky stuff from stems and leaves. "It's an easy job," said Sandra Colasanti, vice president of sales and business relations for Remo Cannabrands, a BC company that sells weed-friendly nutrients to legal growers.
"But it's mundane and because you sit there for that many hours, you're also ending up with carpal tunnel syndrome." (She said black market trimming jobs pay around $20–$25 [$14–$18 USD] an hour.)
Trimmers are checked before they leave a facility, so unfortunately there's no way to pocket any green for personal use.
Salary: $12/hour and up [$8.57 USD/hour and up]
From dabtending to scaling to straight-up customer service, dispensaries are probably the best bet for a young person looking to get into the weed biz.
Don Briere owns Weeds Glass & Gifts, a dispensary chain that has 28 locations in BC and Toronto. (There are an estimated 40 dispensaries in Toronto, with more opening up by the day. Vancouver has more than 100, though the city will likely crack down on many of those in the next couple months.)
"I'm like Starbucks," Briere told VICE. "I basically sell half of a store to a working partner, so I'm spreading it out in the community."
Likewise, he said his staffers almost act as restaurant employees—a dabtender serves up a "shot of cannabis"; scalers measure out different amounts of chronic.
They start out making $12 an hour and graduate to $15 [$11 USD] an hour after a 90-day probation period.
Briere, who takes home $84,000 [$60,000 USD] a year, also pays his workers medical, dental, and pensions.
"All these jobs were created because cannabis is now going to be legal," he said. "We support police, schools, and hospitals, and (organized crime) doesn't."
Salary: $50,000–$60,000 [$36,000–$43,000 USD] (owner), $12-$14/hour [$8.57-$10 USD/hour] (customer service)
Hotbox, one of the oldest vapor lounges in the GTA, features a large patio where people can sess as well as a private member's lounge with a dab room and video games.
Owner Abi Roach opened it in Kensington Market in 2003, inspired after a trip to Jamaica where she saw people openly smoking pot everywhere.
"I had an opportunity to take out a small business loan and I thought, What do I love to do the most? I love smoking weed."
For now, the location, which is undergoing major renovations, is BYOP, though Roach hopes that will change when the laws do. The venue offers snacks, but no alcohol, and closes at 11 PM on weekends to avoid late-night drunks.
"I'd rather just close and not have to clean puke and deal with people fighting and screaming," said Roach. "I just want a place where people can come and smoke a joint."
Salary: $25/hour [$18 USD/hour]
Baking is a risky business right now. A Supreme Court ruling from last June made it legal for people to consume cannabis any which way they pleased, including eating cookies, brownies, etc., but it's still not legal to make those products for sale. Vancouver has implemented an outright ban on edible sales, using the "think of the children" (who might mistake weed candy for regular candy) logic. So bakers are pretty much operating in a gray zone.
"Before the [Supreme Court decision] for a baker found making cannabis butter, it was akin to running a meth lab," said Tracy Curley, a patient's advocate who owns The Wake N'Bakery in Toronto.
"A pedophile would do less time than someone making cannabis butter."
She learned to bake from a dispensary owner and two-and-a-half years ago started the business, tailoring her recipes for cookies, s'mores, and pixie sticks to suit patients with diabetes, cancer, and celiac disease.
Between processing the plant and turning it into coconut oil and butter, "it's a full-time job."
The market has grown incredibly in the last couple years, she said, and those looking to bake can start by turning to YouTube.
"I'm kind of looking forward in the next year or two to being completely out of business."
Salary: $24,000–$36,000 [$17,000–$26,000 USD]
Yes, weed beauty products are a thing now. So if you're one of those crafty people who likes to make your own soap, you might be in luck.
Sarah G. is one of those people. She started Mary Jane's Touch in 2012 with a medicated balm used to treat chronic pain; the line has since grown to include soaps, bath salts, body butters, and scrubs. She also makes healthy THC-infused snacks, like granola, root vegetable chips, dried fruit, and pressed juices.
"We saw in dispensaries or compassion clubs were sugar laden sodas and juices, and felt like there should be a healthier, more natural option."
She and her partner work out of an office space, where they do everything from production to packaging. But they're expanding to a team of eight and will soon offer medicated massages, facial masks, and a delicious sounding "canna-cocoa hydrating wrap."
(Employees would make around $15 [$11] an hour plus incentives, she said.)
As for training, Sarah said, "We're still a ways away from there being a formal education system for cannabis jobs in Canada." So basically, people with backgrounds in health and beauty have an upper hand.
Salary: A few hundred to a few thousand dollars per project
Yep, weed is now so corporate that it warrants its own specialized consultants. The term consultant has always seemed very vague to me, doubly so in a weed context. But basically it's someone who helps people break into the industry.
"There is a spectrum of passionate people who want to enter the cannabis industry, ranging from working trades people to pharmaceutical chemists, but not everyone knows how to enter," Alexzander Samuelsson, a Toronto-based tutor who recently launched Devat Consultant, told VICE. He says his background in chemistry and history as a medical patient make him right for the job. On a day-to-day basis, he said he connects investors and entrepreneurs.
In addition to his rate, Samuelsson said he negotiates for equity of around 20 percent or a mix of equity and wages.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.