There are plenty of weed jobs available that are beyond entry level, and more well-established members of the workforce are looking at the cannabis industry. (Thinkstock / Getty Images)

Trending: Why more and more experienced workers want a new career in cannabis

A quick look at almost any news article on America’s cannabis industry will confirm its growth has been historic. In fact, a report earlier this year by New Frontier Data predicts the legal marijuana industry will create nearly 255,000 jobs by 2020 – with total market sales reaching more than $24 billion nationally by 2025.

And testimony to that surging interest in the industry was on display at the recent Vangst Cannabis Career Summit in downtown Denver – where scores of job seekers shook hands and dropped off résumés with representatives from about 35 companies. Some of those firms were looking to fill up to 20 open positions.

But one thing that did distinguish this fifth job fair for Vangst Talent Network, according to founder and president Karson Humiston, was the rising level of professionalism to be found among those looking for employment.

“In 2015, working in the cannabis industry wasn’t exactly normal,” she said during an interview with The Cannabist. “And a lot of people with long-term professional careers, families (and) obligations weren’t willing to take the risk in joining an industry with a lot of uncertainty around it.”

But now, Humiston noted, more people with established careers outside of cannabis are considering the leap into legal marijuana.

“A lot of candidates with 20-plus years experience in another industry are looking to break in and apply their skills, knowledge, experiences to the cannabis industry,” she added.

The Cannabist spoke with several dozen job-hunters making the rounds at the career fair. Here are some edited highlights from those conversations:

working on cannabis industry
Candice Tillery (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Candice Tillery

Age 31. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska. Has lived in Denver 5 ½ years.

Previous work experience: Currently in the cannabis industry, working in software on regulatory compliance and inventory management.

Looking for: New work within the industry, either in compliance or something requiring new skills.

Ambition: “I am open to a lot of avenues right now.”

Quote: “I’m here to switch up my career and I’d like to broaden my horizons. I got into the cannabis industry about four years ago. I was here (in Denver) for a while, did documentation and titling at an automotive dealership. And I was literally sitting at my desk one day. And it was like, ‘Is this the end? Do I want something more?’ When I realized the cannabis industry was almost like a whole new avenue for this generation that can’t find jobs, I decided to jump into it.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

“I’m from Omaha, Nebraska, and there’s really not a lot of pushback. I was actually surprised. They probably don’t tell all their friends and family members what I do, but from the people I know I actually had very positive reactions to it.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“I think they just think it’s a whole bunch of stoners being lazy, and there’s money laundering and all this craziness going on. But there really isn’t. Everything is very strict; everything is very regimented. They track everything. So there’s no way for things to get out of control. So it’s a very enclosed and safe system.”

Marijuana jobs seeker
Jody Kemp (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Jody Kemp

Age 46. From New Jersey, has lived in Denver 25 years.

Previous work experience: Professional cook, chef training, wheelchair sales.

Looking for: Work with edible production, budtending and management.

Ambition: Head chef in cannabis edible production.

Quote: “I’ve been in a wheelchair 34 years. I was injured when I was 13 in a bicycling accident. I use medical cannabis. I worked in professional kitchens for about ten years, between Denver, Fort Collins and Telluride — and Aspen as well. These past four years have been at home with my daughter; I’ve started to reenter the work field. (Cannabis) seems like a burgeoning industry and I have a lot of cooking experience.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

No. They’ve encouraged me to pursue this field.

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“I think they think it’s a big party. I don’t think that they get our regulations and our professionalism with regard to it. I don’t think they truly understand the respect that is required with use and how to properly behave and remain professional. It can be a part of people’s lives in so many ways.”

working in weed
Shermirah Brachah (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Shemirah Brachah

Age 69. Moved to Denver from New York State three years ago.

Previous work experience: Office management, project management, research, government management liaison with local governments in upstate New York, recruiting and training.

Looking for: Office management, administrative assistant positions.

Ambition: Leaning towards edibles industry.

Quote: “I’m in the job market and this seems like an interesting avenue to pursue. I didn’t know what to expect as far as the competition, but I did think that it’s not as steep as maybe the general job market, because it’s specialized. I’m fascinated; personally interested in (cannabis) for the past 42 years. And coming from a state where it’s been illegal into a state where it’s legal and you can use it, I’ve found it most helpful. I have a car accident injury from 20 years ago; I don’t like meds that zonk me out. But with CBD tinctures and topicals I’m just so thankful that there’s an alternative.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

“We’re very supportive of the industry and hopeful for its continued success.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“The stigmas that have been applied to it are really based on fear and ignorance. Because we have a track record of its use now, we know that in states where it’s legal, Medicaid and Medicare costs have gone down, older people using it are less reliant on traditional medicines. And it doesn’t make people crazy, the way the “Reefer Madness” movie portrayed, which was more like a zombie apocalypse story.”

Cannabis jobs fair
Tasha Benally (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Tasha Benally

Age 37. Moved to Colorado from New Mexico 2-plus years ago, to work in legal cannabis.

Previous work experience: Hospitality and hotel industry.

Looking for: Budtending work and more involvement in the “retail part of the industry.”

Ambition: To produce her own cannabis edible.

Quote: “I look at it more for medicinal purposes than recreational. That’s what a lot of people have moved here for, the medicinal part of it. Getting in the industry was a little bit easy because I went through a temporary agency, which provided cannabis classes for me: budtending classes, the METRC system (Colorado’s seed-to-sale tracking program), harvesting and trimming. They also gave you experience in a grow house as well.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

“As far as my immediate family, no.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“I think it’s more of the government side as far as just charging people, the criminal part of it. … A lot of the states are looking at it as a bad drug, and it really is not.”

Weed jobs seeker
Paul Evans (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Paul Evans

Age 52. From Colorado Springs, lives in Denver.

Previous work experience: Retired U.S. Air Force, medical marijuana patient.

Looking for: A position in the retail or business side of the industry.

Ambition: Working with PTSD vets, to let them know there’s a way to feel better without opiates.

Quote: “I’ve had several back surgeries. I was prescribed tons of opiates, and I credit cannabis with being able to get me off of opiates, so I’m a believer. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for some years now. My youngest is getting close to pre-K age, so it’s time for me to rejoin the workforce again.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana:

“No, I’m very open with my family and friends about my use and they’re very supportive.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“I think it’s still a young enough industry that they don’t see the adult in the room yet. And I think that when so much has been coming out positive about cannabis, I almost think that there’s a whole bunch of people outside of Colorado who say, ‘Well they’re calling it a miracle drug and that’s obviously not true.’ I think Colorado has established that it’s workable, the sky doesn’t fall and now other states are really – based on Colorado’s performance – gearing up for it.”

Marijuana jobs seeker
Erica Haferkamp (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Erica Haferkamp

Age 41. Lives in Cleburne, Texas.

Previous work experience: U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Director of marketing for a digital agency.

Looking for: A director of marketing or marketing manager position in a tech startup or a cannabis wholesale company.

Ambition: High and happy in Colorado!

Quote: “Cannabis is something I love and so is marketing, and I would like to marry the two together. I’ll have to do my homework a lot on the actual plant even though I imbibe. I need to further my education but I don’t think it’s going to be hard, because I’m going to love every minute of it. And I think it’s great that I can be here in my suit and look as professional as I do and be standing next to someone with blue hair, and that we’re both equally accepted and can communicate our professional abilities.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

“My family already knows that I take it because I’m a disabled veteran. I was on narcotics through the VA and I really didn’t like it or how it made me feel. And when my mom was going through brain cancer we decided to switch (to cannabis). It eased her pain and it really helps me on a daily basis.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“I think they’re having to deal with bad propaganda that started in the early 1900s. Our forefathers grew the plant.”

Cannabis careers fair
Jonathan Parker (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Jonathan Parker

Age 37. Moved to Denver from Texas three years ago to join the cannabis industry.

Previous work experience: Marketing and advertising, retail management, fashion design.

Looking for: A management position in a dispensary.

Ambition: Ownership of a cannabis business.

Quote: “I’ve been in (marketing and advertising) for about 15 years: account management, project management. But (the cannabis industry) is something that hits with me on all cylinders. I’ve budtended. When I first got here, nobody cared about 15 years in advertising and marketing and that I was a C-suite executive. No one cared at all when you’re changing industries. It’s like I was speaking Greek. But I wanted to be here, I just wanted to be in this industry. So they started me at a front desk position and so I learned everything from there. Recently I was a store manager at a dispensary. I’m just trying to find a right niche. I like educating people about the product.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

“Oh, yeah. Friends and family. They say, ‘You’re stupid. it’s not the right industry for you to be in, they’ll never be able to pay you what you’re worth.’ I remember when Leafly had their first ad in the New York Times. I put that up in my office and that was not good.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“This is a legit business. There are real business people in it, thinking on real business terms. It’s not some back-alley operation. If you ask anybody on the illegal side if they could be on the legal side, they’d say yes, hands-down, every day.”

Marijuana jobs fair
Lyndsay Rogers (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Lyndsay Rogers

Age 39. Moved to metro Denver from San Francisco three months ago.

Previous work experience: Customer service, retail, call centers.

Looking for: Entry-level work in the cannabis industry.

Ambition: Cannabis dispensary manager

Quote: “It’s a good opportunity to see a lot of places that are hiring, a lot of places that have a lot of different positions in the industry and just start getting in, which is what I’m looking for. I got my MED (Colorado marijuana certification) badge two weeks ago, which means I can start working now. I’m getting my start here and then, if I end up going back to California, I’ll have the industry experience. Customer service is a big deal. You want to get people to come back, in a dispensary or wherever.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

“There’s been a little incredulity about it, some criticism, but for the most part people are getting used to it.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“I think recreational kinds of skews it, because the medical is very specific. Recreational (cannabis) isn’t giving it a bad name, but I don’t think most people know what that difference is. It something that should be acceptable and should be used. And to have that shut down just for stigmas or misunderstanding would be unfortunate.”

Weed jobs seeker
Doug Grego (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Doug Grego

Age 25. Moved to Denver from Pittsburgh two months ago.

Previous work experience: Chemical engineer at a manufacturing company.

Looking for: Work in the cannabis extraction/concentrates industry.

Ambition: To bring professionalism and accountability to the legal cannabis industry.

Quote: “I’m ready to follow my passion, ready to build a career doing what I love, every single day. As chemical engineers we’re trained to look at a process as a whole. So I look at it from start to end, how do we improve things here. Especially 10 years down the line, when you you’re going to have multi-million square foot facilities pumping out concentrates. As a chemical engineer what we’re trained to do is design those massive plants, run those massive plants, understand how to scale things up and down.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

“No. Actually my family has been extremely supportive of it. They were kind of naysayers back in the day, but this is the first time they’ve seen me passionate about something. They’re happy that I’m happy.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

“A lot more young, technical professionals should be entering this industry. They’re going to need trained professionals to do this.”

Cannabis career fair
Debbie Brock (Bruce Kennedy, The Cannabist)

Debbie Brock

Age 42. Moved to Denver from Dallas, 10 years ago.

Previous work experience: Accountant for property management and cannabis companies.

Looking for: Accounting positions in the cannabis industry

Ambition: To be a controller for a cannabis company.

Quote: “I moved out here for camping. I wasn’t happy at the place (where I was working) and found the (cannabis) job on Craigslist – I said this was something I could really get into. I was the accounting department; I loved it. I’ve been doing accounting for 25 years and there’s only so much automation that can be done with that. They need to have trustworthy people in those positions.”

Any pushback from friends and family about working in marijuana?

“I did when I first moved to Colorado, but not anymore.”

What misconceptions do you think people have about the legal cannabis industry?

A lot more people are doing it than what they realize; I mean grandmothers and stuff like that.”