Cannabis trade magazine Marijuana Business Daily estimates that the value of New Jersey’s cannabis industry will quickly grow to more than $2 billion now that cannabis is legal for all adults over 21. For those numbers to be realized, New Jersey cannabis businesses will have to do some hiring. They’ll need people to grow the cannabis, process the cannabis, package the cannabis, and sell the cannabis, not to mention to deliver the cannabis.
Matt Harrell, vice president of the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association and vice president of government relations at Curaleaf, said that while it’s hard to pinpoint exact numbers, an adult-use cannabis dispensary could hire 50 people and a large-scale grow facility could create a few hundred jobs.
“While every license holder will have to determine their own employment needs, the retail portion alone will create many hundreds of jobs in dispensaries across New Jersey. With cultivation, processing, and even administrative jobs considered, the adult-use market is going to be huge job creator for our state,” said Harmony Dispensary CEO Shaya Brodchandel.
The New Jersey CannaBusiness Association recently announced a collaboration with CareersinCannabis.com, a comprehensive industry-specific job board, in an effort to connect potential employees and employers.
At the time, NJCBA President Edmund Deveaux said, “As the market continues to grow, it will be crucial for businesses to find the necessary talent to make their endeavor successful. We believe this collaboration will help play an important role in that process.”
Plenty of people want to start careers in the cannabis industry. The business is “extremely competitive,” according to Harrell, and the allure of working in an industry that up until recently was so taboo has some sex appeal to it. Several organizations and colleges have crafted training programs for folks interested in getting into the industry, and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission’s initial rules released Aug. 19, 2021, delineated a set of educational requirements plant-touching employees need to receive their employee identification cards.
The rules, which have yet to be enforced, require that a plant-touching employee complete an educational program that covers, at minimum, several topics: History of cannabis use, prohibition and legalization; common cultivation techniques and strain-cultivar varieties; chemotypes of cannabis; packaging, labeling and advertising; cultivation and manufacturing processes; health education regarding the risks of cannabis use and over-use, including cannabis dependency; the medical use of cannabis; and laws and rules pertaining to cannabis.
“The industry is so multifaceted. If you want to work as a dispensary, you can’t just know the name of the product. You need to know how to interact with patients. You need to understand how that plant or product was grown. You need to be able to explain how that product was tested. People are going to ask, ‘how was this vape cartridge made?’” said Sarah Trent, founder of 2019 license awardee Valley Wellness and founder of New Jersey Cannabis Certified, an educational program providing training for all entry level plant-touching jobs in the cannabis industry, including entry level cultivation, manufacturing, testing lab technician, and dispensary attendant jobs.
NJCC’s five-module program is taught live on Zoom over five nights by industry professionals like Trent and academics like Thomas Gianfagna, a Rutgers University plant biology professor. Trent concocted the program in the time between submitting her medical cannabis dispensary application during the 2019 Request for Applications round and the day nearly two-and-a-half years later when she was awarded a license.
The program’s 13th cohort starts next month, and nearly 1,000 students have earned NJCC certification so far. Trent said it’s hard for her to put a number on how many students have graduated into real-life cannabis industry jobs, but she said she has former students at “almost every facility” that touches the plant in New Jersey, naming Rise, Garden State Dispensary and TerrAscend, specifically.
Programs like Trent’s fill a void in industry training because every state’s cannabis laws are different.
“You can go to Colorado and work in a dispensary and that’s valuable experience, but you shouldn’t have to do that. You should be able to get the basics of what you need to know and utilize the experience you already have in working in New Jersey. I always tell people, ‘Use the skills you already have.’ If you’ve worked in a restaurant, worked in retail, you can work in a dispensary. You’ve almost certain utilized a point-of-sale system,” Trent said.
Minority Cannabis Academy, a Dutchie and Harmony Dispensary-sponsored cannabis education program for minorities in Jersey City that kicks off in July, aims to educate minorities to be plant-touching employees, and will do it for free. The five-week NJCC course will run students $500, and Stockton University’s six-course certificate in cannabis studies costs students $1,995; but MCA was designed to help minorities from disenfranchised communities get into—and grow—in the cannabis world, and students are sponsored by large cannabis operators who cover the expenses of the eight-week course.
“Our collective goal is to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce in cannabis. This would include more minority ownership, staff representation and leadership positions. Not one of the aforementioned changes can happen successfully, without providing individuals with the knowledge base to execute the task that’ll be expected of them on a daily basis,” explained MCA cofounder Brendon Robinson.
“For this ecosystem to work, we need to train potential CEOs on the ins and out of business leadership and all that comes with it. We need to train our budtenders so that they can service patients and deliver the highest standard of customer service every single time. MCA is a workforce development program that will help minorities in all stages of their lives, enter the cannabis industry with a foundational knowledge base that’ll ensure they’re successful. This is critical to the success of the N.J. cannabis market,” he said.
MCA’s partner Dutchie, a cannabis e-commerce and POS company, will train MCA students on a simulation of its Leaf Logix POS system—meaning they’ll train on the same system many of them will use when they start their cannabis careers. The program was created with the CRC’s education rules in mind so that students would “be able to transition into their perspective careers without a hiccup,” Robinson said.
When adult use dispensaries are up and running and the appeal of the formerly taboo industry wears off, how do cannabis companies retain employees?
In an August 2021 Green Entrepreneur op-ed, founder and CEO of cannabis recruiting agency FlowerHire David Belsky said that businesses can retain talent by training them to support internal mobility, offering competitive compensation and benefits, fostering good company culture, and allowing employees a voice.
“Don’t just come up with what you think they would like. Ask them what they want. And use their answers to inform the perks you offer,” Belsky wrote. “The offer of a company picnic may not entice your employees – they may enjoy more flexibility with their schedule, more paid time off, discounts, or employee events that they would opt to attend when they’re not working.”
Hugh Giordano, labor union representative at United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 360, has been one of the most – if not the most – active voices in New Jersey’s cannabis labor conversation. Foley Hoag LLP Counsel Mike McQueeny told NJBIZ in November that workers’ rights are included in the cannabis laws here in large part due to Giordano, who’s positioned himself at the table at whatever cannabis-related city council meeting or legislative hearing was happening at the time over the last decade.
Under a provision written into the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act – as it was in the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act – plant-touching businesses must have labor peace agreements with a bona fide labor organization, with parties entering into an agreement that the employer will not oppose unionization and the union if and when it organizes the workforce, agrees to not strike, or otherwise stop work.
Giordano said that the employees of several New Jersey operators have unionized with UFCW in the last year, including Columbia Care, Green Thumb Industries, Justice Grown, Verano and Ascend Wellness. The employees at Garden State Dispensary were ahead of the game when they unionized in 2018.
While UFCW has “good relationships” with these companies now, the LPA provisions in CREAMMA did not eliminate all the pushback along the way, explained Giordano.
“There are companies that are not adamantly anti-union, but they’re skeptical. They could be being consulted by the wrong attorneys … but for the most part things are going smoothly. We’ve built a strong relationship with industry over the past decade in New Jersey,” he said.