Weed out career opportunities in the booming cannabis industry

Weed out career opportunities in the booming cannabis industry

Ask 27-year-old Nick D’Amelio what he does for a living, and his answer might surprise you.

“I grow weed,” said the Waldwick, NJ, resident.

D’Amelio landed his first gig in the cannabis industry more than three years ago, when he was hired as a cultivation technician at the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, NJ. It was love at first seed.

“I’m a weed guy. I like weed. I’m passionate about the plant and the opportunity it holds for so many,” he said.

D’Amelio was not only talking about medical and recreational cannabis, but the career growth and possibilities the industry offers as well. “Three years ago, I was a technician,” he said. “Now, I’m the Northeast cultivation manager overseeing three states. Where else can you grow that fast? I didn’t go to college.”

The management job is at TerrAscend in Boonton, NJ, D’Amelio’s second employer in the cannabis space. There, he supervised the build-out of a 76,000-square-foot cultivation center, the first of its kind in New Jersey.

The benefits cannabis brings are top in his mind. “I smoked weed with my stepfather and cousin as they were dying of cancer,” he said. “It brought them peace. It helps people enjoy life more, relax and sleep.”

Nick D'Amelio measures 3.58 grams of marijuana while processing at the TerrAscend plant in Boonton, NJ.
Nick D’Amelio measures 3.58 grams of marijuana while processing at the TerrAscend plant in Boonton, NJ.
Tamara Beckwith

Sales of recreational cannabis became legal in New Jersey in April, and it’s one of 18 states where anyone over 21 can buy limited amounts of weed from a state-licensed dispensary. “People lined up down the street,” said D’Amelio. As of this month, there were 13 such dispensaries in the state, with more coming.

“The cannabis industry is about to explode, and everyone is getting ready to pounce on New York,” said George Jage, president of Jage Media, which hosts some of the industry’s leading business events.

He likens this point in time in cannabis history to the period when Prohibition was lifted in the alcohol industry. “Customer demand became visible, and all kinds of jobs became available.”

Nick D'Amelio was happy to start out as a cultivation technician at the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, NJ – without going to college.
Nick D’Amelio smoked marijuana while dealing with the deaths of his “stepfather and cousin.”
Tamara Beckwith

Because cannabis is still illegal federally, many of the jobs around weed are local, given that individual states regulate everything that happens “from seed to sale.” New York, where some growers of recreational marijuana already have their authorizations, is expected to come online for recreational sales in late 2022 or early 2023, bringing with it around 24,000 jobs in the coming years, according to a briefing book published by New York state.

“The cannabis industry is always hiring,” said Jacob Carlson, co-founder of EzHire Cannabis, also known as the “Indeed for Weed.” The job board, EzHireCannabis.com, is geared toward mid-entry-level workers who are interested in cultivation, lab work (processing and manufacturing) and retail.

The primary qualification for getting hired for any job in the industry is “enthusiasm about cannabis,” said Carlson. That said, aspiring budtenders might get ahead of the competition if they have some customer-facing retail experience, because “you know how to work with customers,” but employees have to learn about the products and what benefits they provide.

Marijuana enthusiast Nick D'Amelio took full advantage of the growing cannabis industry on his way to becoming a cultivation manager.
George Jage, president of Jage Media, anticipates thousands of jobs opening in the cannabis industry.
Tamara Beckwith

To help its community along, EzHire Cannabis offers a free marijuana learning center on its site that includes tutorials such as budtending 101, packager/labeler 101 and harvester/trimmer 101, among others.

New Yorkers might also consider the New York State Department of Labor’s cannabis workforce development program, which may be provided free if you are unemployed, or the online certificate program certificate in cannabis production and management offered online by SUNY Farmingdale and Cannabis 101 by Leafly, among others.

Connie Bertussi, vice president of human resources at Acreage Holdings, a multistate cannabis operator headquartered in Midtown, advises that applicants at least gain some knowledge prior to interviewing.

Nick D'Amelio was happy to start out as a cultivation technician at the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, NJ – without going to college.
Nick D’Amelio supervises 76,000-square-foot marijuana cultivation center in Boonton, New Jersey.
Tamara Beckwith

“Take the time to learn about the industry and the types of jobs required to produce and sell our products,” she said. “It’s also important to understand state requirements.”

Not every job in cannabis requires having direct contact with the product. Companies like Acreage Holdings also hire for corporate positions in accounting, IT, supply chain and marketing. While many of the required skills transfer well from other industries, “a passion for the plant” is a must.

The legalization of cannabis has created specialties outside of the immediate industry, too, as public relations account supervisor Alexis Isaacs, 33, discovered.

Nick D'Amelio was happy to start out as a cultivation technician at the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, NJ – without going to college.
Nick D’Amelio was happy to start out as a cultivation technician at the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, NJ – without going to college.
Tamara Beckwith

“If you asked me two years ago if I thought I’d be building a career around cannabis, I would have told you no,” said the Brooklyn resident. But when she got a call from the human resources department at Chelsea-based Mattio Communications, which specializes in cannabis, her interest was piqued. She now not only works at Mattio, but co-hosts the “High Priority” podcast that features in-depth conversations with industry experts about the past, present and future of cannabis.

Human resources executive Carrissa Menendez was similarly curious when she was approached by a recruiter about the top HR job at LeafLink, a Financial District-based software company that serves the wholesale cannabis marketplace. The cannabis industry had been in the news, and Menendez “was excited in the industry’s mission of doing well, by doing good,” she said. Menendez now leads HR for LeafLink’s 340 employees, who previously worked at some of the country’s top employers like Apple, Etsy, Microsoft and Time Warner.

At this point in time, the cannabis industry has arrived and is flush with opportunity. “There’s no great resignation here,” said Isaacs.

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