A New Course for Cannabis Careers

All these new cannabis jobs are proof of a maturing industry and a normalized plant.


When it comes to certain nebulous concepts, we just know them to be true. For example: legal cannabis is becoming increasingly normalized.

But how do we know legal weed is more normal now than it was years ago? For one, polling tells us as much — more Americans believe in marijuana’s medical uses and think cannabis should be recreationally legal than did a decade ago, according to Gallup and Pew polls.

That’s normalization.

But there are other metrics by which we can measure legalization’s steady creep into the norm, and one of those is how we react to the many careers that have recently been created by marijuana’s debut in the heavily-regulated mainstream.

Let me take you back to November 2013. One year earlier, voters in Colorado and Washington had said yes to legal cannabis, and those sales were about to debut in my Denver backyard. When editors at The Denver Post announced to the world that I would be the newspaper’s first-ever marijuana editor, my appointment suddenly became national news.

Of course my reassignment in the newsroom made for obvious late-night punchlines on “The Tonight Show” and “Saturday Night Live’s” “Weekend Update.” A few weeks later, I found myself sparring with Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report” and Peter Sagal on NPR quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” But I was also being featured by The New York Times, “All Things Considered” and The Brookings Institution think tank.

In those days, the concept of a professional weed editor was so foreign and unexpected that we had to take stock of what it meant, for journalism and for legalization.

A team of filmmakers found my new job title — and the dynamic it created between an industry on a meteoric rise (cannabis) and a declining industry in peril (print journalism) — so compelling that they followed my team and I around with cameras throughout 2014 to create the feature-length documentary film “Rolling Papers.”

But fast-forward three years to the fall of 2016 and nobody so much as flinched when the San Francisco Chronicle named journalist David Downs, formerly of Cannabis Now, as its cannabis editor. The response? Of course Northern California’s most respected newspaper would hire for such a position, and of course they’d score a respected professional like Downs to take on a beat that has defined the region for decades.

Those changed expectations? That’s also normalization.

And these shifts aren’t limited to media businesses. Just ask the law firms, human resource outfits, job recruiters and government agencies that have been transformed by the arrival of legal and regulated cannabis. Do you think Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper ever saw himself creating and staffing a new state agency dedicated to marijuana policy when he was first inaugurated in the state’s highest office in 2011?

Ha, not likely.

And now comes the news that legal cannabis will employ nearly 300,000 people by 2020 — a statistic that represents more jobs than manufacturing, utilities or government. That’s a lot of jobs, and perhaps more importantly, that’s a lot of new jobs that didn’t really exist in the above-ground sector before — from marijuana editor, to cannabis czar to titles we’ve not yet dreamed up.

As it turns out, I’ve recently assumed another one of those newly created jobs titles: marijuana tech entrepreneur. I recently resigned from The Denver Post and our all-marijuana vertical The Cannabist to help create a new business that will soon be servicing the cannabis industry. It’s been thrilling to embark on such a new and different endeavor, a challenge I couldn’t have taken on a decade ago.

This all reminds me of when I was first tipped off to this shift, shortly after being appointed The Post’s cannabis editor. I remember receiving a press release from a Denver-based security company in late-2013 touting itself as “the solution the cannabis industry relies upon.” At first I scoffed, “Cannabis-specific security? Is there really a need for that?”

Then I thought deeper on the relationship between legal pot and the young industry’s most pressing and vital concerns: most of these businesses are unbanked and dealing with cash and an incredibly valuable crop — maybe there is something here.

As any number of the now-thriving marijuana-specific security firms across the U.S. can now attest, there was something there. One of those businesses, Iron Protection Group, saw its own sprawling New York Times profile in 2016 — a story that intelligently illustrated the growing relationship between the newly legal industry and the young war veterans and law enforcement officers charged with protecting its crops and cash.

And do you know what it’s called when New York Times subscribers are reading about veterans and former police officers vigilantly protecting the very same plants they once confiscated, destroyed and arrested people over?

That’s called normalization, friends, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

Originally published in Issue 26 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

TELL US, how are you witnessing the normalization of cannabis?

Ricardo Baca is the founder of The Cannabist and a veteran journalist who covers the marijuana industry for Cannabis Now, The Daily Beast and other publications. His content agency Grasslands works primarily with businesses and individuals in the cannabis and hemp industries.

1 Comment

  1. Amber Chandler

    July 31, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    I never would’ve thought that Hemp and Cannabis would make A ballot, but it did! Arkansas is ready for this change! Change is good. Knowledge is power! The JOBS this industry is going to create is blowing my mind! Its past time! Glad to see it happening in my lifetime! Hemp and Cannabis all the way! Only just begun for us Arkansans! Spread the seeds, one plant at a time! Made in America! A Healthier people a Healthier planet!

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