What I’ve Learned After a Year in the Legal Recreational Cannabis Industry

A year ago, I came across an ad for an open HR position for a cannabis company It was a little risky. I had an pretty solid straight-laced resume that could open some doors, but what if I added cannabis experience to that resume? Would that start slamming some of those doors shut? How would my friends and family react?

After consideration, I realized how deeply excited I was about the chance to be part of something so new, to be a pioneer! It was an opportunity to get into an industry at a time where I could shape direction. I absolutely do not regret my choice to click “apply” and join the industry. It’s been an interesting and wild ride, but I’m glad to be here.

Here are just a few things I learned since entering the industry a year ago:

Driving without a roadmap is hard

The most exciting and terrifying parts of the cannabis industry come with its newness. Although people have been producing and consuming cannabis throughout history, this is the first time we as a society are coming together to make the rules and forge the path of how this product looks in a legal market. I’m grateful to states like Washington and Colorado for coming before us and sharing what they’ve learned, but it’s a constant state of learning and adapting in this industry. State regulations are changing regularly and the market is being flooded with options for consumers. The road before us feels wide open and vast with opportunities, but it can be hard to make the right turns and find our destination when the roads are still being built.

Cannabis is innately political right now

I don’t think I expected how much politics would play a role in my cannabis career. It’s almost impossible to not see politics in cannabis right now. It’s very tricky to work in such a new and strictly-regulated industry that you so wholeheartedly believe in, and that just happens to be federally illegal. It’s a career choice that comes with a backbone of political activism. I’m not only clocking into a job, I’m pioneering an industry, and I take that seriously.
We have a spotlight on us right now, and this is the time to show the country that cannabis is a legitimate business. We have to take that seriously and strive to raise the bar by focusing on compliance and ethics. This is why I am so proud to work for a company like Shadowbox that makes it our mission to be good stewards of this industry.

We need to make extra efforts to be inclusive

I find myself often walking the line between paying homage to our black market history while also desperately trying to rise above it. Earlier this year, the City of Portland announced that $350,000 of cannabis tax revenue would go towards grants for folks impacted by cannabis prohibition laws in the form of record clearing and workplace development. The industry must come out of the shadows and take itself seriously if we expect the country to take us seriously, but we also can’t forget the folks who were impacted by this drug war before us. We have to remember that prohibition disproportionately put poor people and people of color in prison. It’s up to us in this industry to constantly be taking stock and making space for people to grow and make a legitimate career here.

Cannabis science is endlessly fascinating

I learn something new about this plant every single day of my career. I’m lucky enough to work with some of the smartest people in the business, and they have helped me gain a greater understanding of cannabis than I ever thought possible. There is still a long way to go on the science of cannabis since research is so restricted in the U.S., but I am so genuinely enthralled with the complexities of this plant.

We need better language and consumer education

In learning so much about the plant, I have learned that its complexities make consumer education critical. Although the idea that “indica” is “in-da-couch” sleepy and “sativa” is energizing seems relatively neat and tidy, within the industry, we know those terms are not quite accurate. once upon a time, there may have been a greater diversity of plants with different effects, but hundreds of years of human cross-breeding has created massive hybridization. Not only is it scientifically tricky to define a “true” indica or sativa, but there is a great variation on how individual people respond to different cannabinoids and terpenes. The industry lacks the unified language to address these concerns. We all agree that consumers need a common language to truly understand the varied effects of particular strains, but we haven’t found that perfect language yet.

Although we have come a long way in the last ten years, we still have a lot of work to do. But making stewardship, education and inclusivity priorities, will guide our path as a company and also shape the experience we seek as consumers.