Where the grass is greener in the cannabis industry

December 13, 2021

Screen capture of webinar discussing the cannabis industry

While it is easy to imagine a proverbial green rush as cannabis becomes legal for recreational adult use in more states, insiders explain that the development of a young industry without federal regulation can be as volatile as it is profitable.

During The Cannabis Industry: Overview and Opportunities, Leah Bailey, chief business development officer for AUSA, a publicly-traded multi-state cannabis company, and Jon Volkmann, vice president of the marketplace at Eaze Technologies, California’s largest cannabis delivery service, spoke about their experience in the business.

The webinar was hosted by Patrice Luoma, director of the People’s United Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Audience members submitted several questions before the presentation with interests ranging from start-ups to business development.

For those looking to explore employment in the cannabis space, positions are wide-ranging across a multitude of functions like other agricultural retail projects.

“A great place to start is at a big retailer for exposure to customers and brands and to see the number of different opportunities and where your interests are,” said Volkmann.

Bailey echoed the importance of experience in the industry before attempting to launch a marijuana retail operation.

“I would warn that this is one of the most expensive industries you can imagine. Starting a dispensary requires lots of capital,” she said. “If you do grow and don’t have the correct machinery and lights, you can lose money very quickly. It’s complicated manufacturing in terms of extraction.”

While most cannabis companies are still in the first stages of development and don’t have formal internship programs yet, many are willing to talk to interested candidates and may take interns on.

“The best thing you can do is reach out. It’s a young industry and people are very friendly and open to sharing information,” said Volkmann. “Reach out to people in LinkedIn and in your network, it will open up doors.”

Volkmann also recommends learning about cannabis-focused venture funds, such as Casa Verde, and reading industry news outlets for a deeper understanding of the market and possible networking opportunities.

Though any burgeoning consumer product industry faces challenges, speakers said that the limits presented by lack of federal legalization and social media bans create a need for creative solutions and flexible infrastructure.

“There is a reason why if you drive around California there are countless billboards for Eaze products. We only have access to certain marketing channels. We can’t do search engine marketing and we have to be very careful about what we put on our social media presence,” said Volkmann. “We have to utilize channels that are less efficient.”

Bailey said that dispensaries are leaning on more traditional forms of connecting with customers.

“We find the best way to market is direct marketing by sending emails or texts to customers. Most legalized states also allow samples and demonstrations from budtenders,” said Bailey.

She cited the lack of deductions available to cannabis companies and high taxes as other challenges.

Despite these hurdles, both panelists said they are optimistic about future opportunities and where the industry is headed.

“It’s still a craft industry and success comes back to marketing and having a good product,” said Bailey. “There is lots of willingness to bring people into the business too.”

The mission to provide safe, laboratory-tested products for adult enjoyment is industry-wide, said Volkmann.

"We focus on providing safety and quality. That’s what people are willing to pay for,” he said.

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