how do I get a job in the cannabis industry?


Lorena Cupcake, voted “Chicago’s Best Budtender” in 2019, has answered hundreds of questions from cannabis buyers and patients during her time as a budtender. And now they are turning this experience into a monthly column of advice: Ask a budget tender. Do you have a question for Cupcake? Send your questions to

Hey cupcake!

Since the COVID success I have been employed by two companies. One that I left in March for another that I was hoping would become permanent. That didn’t happen and in November 2020 I was laid off and struggled to find work again. Not too many positions are hired, and the positions that are hired for my skills are places I want to avoid.

How did you get into the cannabis industry? I have a friend who works as a paralegal for a Bud Company here in Chicago and she told me it’s all about connections. I have no connections and it’s not like I’ll be going to a social event anytime soon.

What would you advise to get into the cannabis industry? I know about cannabis and I think I’m down to earth. Any advice?

Dear more down-to-earth,

If you enjoy smoking herbs, that’s half the battle. Like most people who work in the cannabis industry, the story really begins when I first lit a bowl. A loving familiarity with cannabis is one of the most important prerequisites for making buds a living.

I got my start on a medical cannabis pilot program more than two years before Illinois closed its first recreational sale. As a patient, I was able to visit my local pharmacy and learn more about various cannabis products. I submitted an application highlighting my writing and marketing experience and linking it to an article I had written about a local cannabis chef. What started as a part-time gig – working the weekends and managing an Instagram – turned into a career.

I’ll be honest: making personal contacts doesn’t hurt, no matter what industry you are in. With the potential for the biggest 4/20 sales ever emerging, many hiring managers will be delighted to take a fair look at qualified applicants in the market. Your next employer is out there; You just need to know where to look and how to market yourself.

The cannabis job market

According to a 2020 report from Vangst, one of the leading cannabis recruitment agencies, the demand for administrative and support departments like HR and Finance has increased as young startups mature and merge into multi-state operations. The offers for top jobs like trimmers and budget tenders have grown from year to year. Entry-level jobs are abundant in cities like Detroit, Boston, and Tulsa. After a brief onset of the pandemic, revenue-generating positions like sales and marketing are back on track and the future looks better than ever. After groundbreaking victories in legalizing cannabis, five states with brand new recreational markets are well on their way to creating 26,241 new jobs by 2025.

To get one of these shiny new jobs for yourself, go to Google and search for “cannabis jobs” and the city you hunt in. A special search engine will open that indexes offers from Indeed, LinkedIn and all other major job posting platforms. You can set up email notifications from there, but I want to be more specific. My suggestion is to set up notifications for every local cannabis company that interests you. This can produce more results than searching for a specific job title, as you will see every position they are trying to fill, not just the “Breeder” or “Laboratory Manager” positions. It also helps filter out legitimate businesses’ listings from obvious scams like “Cannabis Product Testers – Paid to Smoke Weed”.

Speaking of scams, don’t let anyone pressure you to go to Budtender School. A recent internet search for professional training quickly found bogus (and expensive) diplomas like a Master of Marijuana certification, which is as meaningless as it sounds. If your state requires registration or licensing, it is usually tied to your employer – a third party cannot pre-sell you. If your state requires a certain number of hours of training, your new job will set them up through your preferred provider.

Find your niche

While the focus is usually on positions in cultivation, mining, or retailing, the truth is that the cannabis industry needs people with diverse skills. I’ve seen many jobs for graphic designers, programmers, job trainers, and security specialists, alongside the more anticipated offers for delivery drivers and extraction technicians. Whatever you do now, there’s a good chance you can find a cannabis equivalent that your experience is relevant to.

While regulations vary from state to state, passing a criminal investigation is required for most on-site jobs at cultivation centers or pharmacies. If you already have criminal convictions for cannabis on your record, you can qualify for your record to be deleted. Organizations like Cage-Free Repair and their National Expungement Week awareness campaign can help you clear your data so you can participate in an industry that benefits from cannabis that has been criminalized for too long in black and brown communities.

Most employers look for evidence that you are passionate and knowledgeable about the product they are selling. While you might not want to mention in your interview that you use gravity bong keg stands, there are plenty of professional ways to demonstrate that you know your THC from your CBD. Having a blog, video channel, or Instagram rating cannabis products is one way to show that you are tapped into your local market. Other options include joining networking groups, volunteering with nonprofits, and freelance work.

Create the perfect application

Taking the time to thoroughly explain your unique qualifications to a hiring manager will set your application package apart from others. Management consultant Kai Davis has great cover letter and resume writing advice, while Alison Green – author of the popular Ask a Manager blog and one of my OG idols at this whole “advice columnist” company – has put together a truly colossal list of resources for job seekers. If you tend to freeze when someone asks you where you see yourself in five years’ time, after you’ve prepared yourself with some of their texts, you’ll feel better.

I specifically mentioned cover letters, although many applications these days don’t need them. If your resume doesn’t include cannabis experience, you can use the cover letter to link your professional career to the requirements of your future role. In your last position, if you’ve managed a storage unit, leveled a cash drawer, checked inventory for FIFO, or answered questions about customer service, you already have professional skills that are incredibly valuable in a pharmacy.

While getting started in a new industry can be difficult, now is a good time to move to greener pastures. Use the resources linked above to customize your application package for the cannabis industry and to submit personalized versions of your resume and cover letter for every interesting job you see. Start engaging with the community through social media, virtual meetups, or masked visits to your local pharmacies. There is plenty of room to get into and grow with this growing industry as you deepen your knowledge base and skills. Good luck!

Featured image by Nantpipat Vutthisak / Shutterstock

Do you need advice on how to incorporate cannabis into your lifestyle? Write cupcake to for the March column.



Robert Dunfee