By Kyle Arnold Orlando Sentinel
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Several marijuana business owners in Florida say a passion for smoking weed is a liability, and that a criminal record involving drugs will almost certainly disqualify most candidates for a job.
The hunt is on for budtenders, cannabis cultivators, weed botanists and dozens of other new jobs that have sprouted with Florida's nascent medical marijuana industry.
With dispensaries scouting locations across the state and 147,000 people signed up to use the now-legalized drug, the developing industry is quickly trying to recruit thousands of workers to develop, grow and sell medical cannabis.
Medical marijuana businesses say stoners need not apply. A passion for smoking weed is a liability, and a criminal record involving drugs will almost certainly disqualify most candidates.
"We get hundreds of applications for every job opening we have," said Michelle Terrell, spokesman for Wakefield, Mass.-based Curaleaf, which opened a dispensary in south Orlando in early August. "And maybe only 10 percent of those are qualified and meet the legal requirements."
It's a high-stakes business, where companies are fighting to establish an early market share, state regulators are strict and most transactions are handled in cash, meaning dispensaries are stocked with thousands of dollars.
But workers say it's worth it to jump into the risky business of marijuana for the opportunity to get in early. Florida's legal medical marijuana business is expected to generate about $456 million in sales in 2018, according to a study from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics. That meant roughly 2,800 jobs at the end of 2017. By 2022, Florida's marijuana employment is expected to grow almost tenfold to about 25,000 jobs, the research group said.
Those estimates would put Florida's marijuana employment behind only California and Colorado, states that have legalized full recreational marijuana use.
Not all of the jobs are about tending pot, however.
Knox Medical, which is based in South Florida and has its nursery in Apopka, is "aggressively hiring" workers ranging from accountants and office managers to chemists and customer service associates, said company spokesman Scott Klenet.
"We need customer-experience specialists, we need drivers and we'll be expanding our phone operations," Klenet said. "And what we find is that people come from all walks of life."
Workers don't need certification or training to start in the business at Knox, Klenet said. But they do need a clean criminal background and a dedication to following rules, even in a business that would have been illegal anywhere in the United States a decade ago.
"For a lot of people at the entry level, they say they want to get into this industry because of a passion for cannabis," said James Yagielo, founder of Miami-based medical marijuana recruiting firm HempStaff. "We usually tell them they should avoid bringing up any illegal activity regarding cannabis in an interview."
Florida law requires all medical marijuana employees to undergo a criminal background check. Any felony will almost automatically disqualify a candidate, he said.
"Sometimes you can get by with a low-level, misdemeanor possession charge, but not always," Yagielo said.
The pay in the medical marijuana field is slightly higher than other service industries because employees have to meet more requirements just to start working.
Nursery workers usually start at about $11 an hour in Florida while budtenders, another name for dispensary sales associates, usually make $14 or $15 an hour, he said.
Catie Callahan gave up a six-year career in management at a national grocery chain to open the new Orlando Curaleaf dispensary at 12402 S. Orange Blossom Trail.
Callahan, who said she earned an MBA while working in retail, wanted to get into the new industry to accelerate her career. Medical marijuana companies in Florida are required to be vertically integrated, meaning the same companies need to run everything from development and growing to transportation and sales.
Florida also has a limited number of companies that can operate, and to date 14 companies have been registered.
"I took a class on medical marijuana regulations last year, and I've been keeping my eyes open for an opportunity," said Callahan, 34. "There is a stigma, but I'm not worried about leaving this business and not being able to get a job because I worked in medical marijuana."
With legal recreational marijuana a possibility in the future, she said she hopes to advance in a business that already has an anchor in the industry.
In states like Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, dozens of businesses have developed apart from growing and selling weed, said Sam Walch, an instructor at Florida Gulf Coast University who will start teaching a class on medical marijuana this fall.
"If we look to Colorado and California, there's a big move to mix existing activities with cannabis," he said. "So yoga becomes 'CannaYoga,' wine-country tours now become grow house tours, and cooking classes are now open to a whole new spice."