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July 27, 2017

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What to know about working in marijuana

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Mikayla Whitmore

The cultivation room at The Grove, a medical marijuana business in Las Vegas, glows purple under LED lamps, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.

Nevada’s recreational marijuana industry is expected to bring $1.1 billion in revenue and up to 40,000 jobs over the next eight years, per a 2016 study from Las Vegas-based RCG Economics. While regulations are still being hashed out by the Legislature and Department of Taxation, marijuana businesses foresee potential employees flocking.

What employers look for

Four local marijuana business owners were surveyed, saying that while the new recreational industry will bring more jobs, demand for those openings at dispensaries, production facilities and testing labs is extremely high.

• Loyalty: There may be a lot of applicants, but The+Source Dispensary owner Andrew Jolley said that many seekers of entry-level positions, such as budtenders and desk clerks, don’t meet the most basic and important criterium: loyalty.

“Employees who have had long tenures at previous companies are always looked at favorably because it shows that they’re loyal,” Jolley said. “Beyond that, we look for honest, hardworking, passionate people that have a passion for medical cannabis.”

David Goldwater of Inyo Fine Cannabis Dispensary, Frank Hawkins of Nevada Wellness Center and Armen Yemenidjian of Essence Cannabis Dispensary agreed with that.

• Can-do attitude: All four entrepreneurs said that while some of their employees were medical marijuana cardholders, no industry experience was necessary for entry-level positions.

“We hire people that have a big smile, that want to work and want to engage with the patient,” Hawkins said. “We know we can teach the book knowledge.”

• Customer service: Goldwater added that working with marijuana didn’t require special skills. “Good customer service, written and communication skills or computer skills — all of those are as important in marijuana as any other field.”

• Specialization: Higher-level positions, such as lead grower in a cultivation facility, require farming experience, albeit not necessarily in marijuana. These dispensary owners say candidates that tout experience growing or selling weed on the black market could actually be harming themselves. That goes for any position across the legal business.

“Being around weed ’cause it’s cool, doesn’t make you employable,” Goldwater said.

Training

While many medical marijuana facilities in the valley provide internal training, Nevada Dispensary Association director Riana Durrett said most marijuana training programs are available online and are not exclusive to employers.

Durrett recommended that applicants complete an online training program before interviewing for jobs as a way to “stand out.” Some common training programs are:

• Nevada Dispensary Association: The 3-hour training program, unveiled in January and used by a growing number of dispensaries, focuses on current medical marijuana laws in the Silver State and best practices for working in dispensaries. ($125)

• Cannabis Training Institute: The dispensary technician program lasts 6-8 hours and advises dispensary employees on assisting medical patients and details the variety of medical cannabis products. ($299)

• Cannabis Training University: Based on California cannabis laws and regulations, CTU was used in many Nevada dispensaries until the Nevada Dispensary Association rolled out its own program. ($199)

*Hawkins and Yemenidjian are among those who also train employees in-house with their own programs. “It’s like any other business — every dispensary has their own way of doing things,” Hawkins said.

Stigma

Goldwater says he warns interviewees of potential damage to their resumes if their careers eventually take them out of the industry. “For your next job, you’re either going to have a hole on your resume for the time you worked here or you’re going to have to state you were working in a marijuana shop. Good or bad, that’s something you need to think about.”

On the flipside, Goldwater said people who worked in marijuana could find unique satisfaction in helping medical buyers treat illnesses through weed. And being “part of the marijuana movement” builds a strong sense of camaraderie.

How to apply

• Online: Employers list openings on general job sites and industry-specific ones, including weedhire.com, 420careers.com and marijuanajobscannabiscareers.com.

• Open houses and job fairs: Dispensary owners project that they might double their workforces to meet the demands of the recreational industry, so expect more fairs to happen at specific businesses and in settings where multiple companies can showcase their brands.

• Personal interaction: Jolley said he met one of his employees — a retired school teacher — while dining at a restaurant, and another — a former Lyft driver — while taking a ride in that person’s car.

Taxes and employee benefits

While employees in Nevada’s marijuana industry aren’t subject to higher federal income taxes, businesses pay about 70 percent instead of the standard 30 percent.

The high tax rate is mandated by IRS Code 280e, which limits deductions from state-legal companies selling federally illegal drugs to just the cost of goods sold.

One Las Vegas business owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while his company would have been able to report a $50,000 loss as a regular business, it instead had to submit tax returns showing a $500,000 profit last year based on 280e regulations. Instead of carrying over a loss into 2017, his dispensary had to pay nearly $200,000 in income taxes last year.

Marijuana employers also have struggled to find competitive health insurance and benefits for their employees.

“Certain companies just don’t want anything to do with marijuana, and that’s unfortunate,” Jolley said.

“It’s a real issue. Everyone in marijuana has run into that same problem,” Yemenidjian added, though he and the other owners are optimistic that insurers eventually will compete for their business. “There’s only one direction to go when you have zero providers — you can’t fall from the floor. As this industry develops, more insurance companies and other providers will get comfortable.”

Creative spinoffs

Don’t want to work in a dispensary? Here are three examples of industry subfields:

CannaYoga, 10161 W. Park Run Drive: Pairing marijuana with yoga provides “two of the world’s greatest healing practices,” said CannaYoga co-owner Irena Jacobson. The business has operated out of Wishing Wellness Medical since September, and has since expanded to offer pop-up classes in local dispensaries. Among the most popular are CannaYin and CannaYinFlow, which allow smoking. Admission is $25, and weed is optional.

Dixie Chocolates: Made in Silver State Wellness’ central valley edible facility, weed-infused chocolates designed by Le Cordon Bleu-trained culinary artists allow users to get sugar and weed fixes with just one bite. The chocolates, which include flavors like “Crispy Kracken” and “Toasted Rooster,” are tempered in-house and distributed to more than 45 facilities across the Las Vegas Valley, Silver State Wellness representative Jacob Silverstein said.

Cannabis Chapel, 827 Las Vegas Blvd. South: Located on the Strip, the pot-themed wedding hall, branded the “weed-ing chapel,” allows tourists and locals alike to tie the knot or renew vows. With reggae music and a minister ordained by the Higher Power Cannabis Church, the chapel encourages visitors to book their spots at least 24 hours in advance — longer if you’re looking to wed at 4:20 p.m., the most requested time.

Common positions and pay

Cultivation facility

• Lead grower: Manages all tasks and employees in the grow house. $70,000-$90,000 annually

• Junior grower: Works under lead grower in planting, cloning and nourishing marijuana plants. $12-$18 per hour, $25,000-$37,500 annually

• Trimmer: In charge of hand-trimming plants as well as operating trimming machines. $12-$18 per hour, $25,000-$37,500 annually

• Inventory manager: $14-$16 per hour, about $31,500 annually

Production facility

• General manager: $19-$28 per hour, $40,000-$60,000 annually

• Sales: $14-$19 per hour, $30,000-$40,000 annually

• Refining/ extraction technician: Operates machinery to extract oils from marijuana plants. $19-$25 per hour, $40,000-$50,000 annually

• Packaging: $12-$16 per hour, about $25,000 annually

• Delivery: Transports products to dispensaries. $14-$16 per hour, about $31,000 annually

Dispensary

• General manager: $45,000-$60,000 annually

• Assistant manager: $18-$22 per hour, about $42,000 annually

• Receptionist/greeter: $12-$16 per hour, about $29,000 annually

• Patient adviser. Educates patients on products to determine what’s right for them. $14-$18 per hour, about $33,000 annually

• Vault manager: Rolls joints, stocks and replaces inventory and handles deliveries. $14-$20 per hour, about $30,000-$42,000 annually

• Cashier/ “budtender”: Handles products and rings up purchases; may also be in charge of restocking inventory. $14-$18 per hour, about $33,000 annually

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