Celebrities from Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon to Snoop Dogg and Seth Rogen are all early adopters and it’s clear why: the US legal cannabis trade is a $10.4 billion industry according to marketing firm New Frontier Data. If appetite for the little green herb continues to grow, a recent report predicted the global market will soar to a whopping $146.4 billion by 2025. And any fast-growing economy needs workers. So what sorts of roles are there out there in the weed world? We speak to the entrepreneurs with answers: four cannabis pioneers who have seen (and seized) an opportunity and are now making waves in the midst of the green rush.
Cannabis Matchmaker: Molly Peckler, Founder of Highly Devoted
“Cannabis is a heart-opener; it brings down your walls and allows you to be present in the moment. It is a phenomenal tool – a powerful aphrodisiac that can be an amazing addition to your sex life. It really gets you in the mood. You can use it before and after sex, and during, through massage oils and personal lubricants. Consumed together you can relax and enhance intimacy.
After several years working at a high-end professional matchmaking company in Chicago I left to start up a love coaching business, which developed into a cannabis matchmaking service. I had talked to many people who had faced judgment in dating for using cannabis. They were trying to find people who they could share it with or who could accept that cannabis was a part of their lives. I saw an opportunity.
Today, we work with between 10 to 12 clients at a time, ranging from millennials to baby boomers. Fees start at around $2,500 and go up depending on the number of introductions and the nature of a particular search. They aren’t stereotypical stoners; they are smart and successful, well-respected and motivated, and cannabis just happens to be their substance of choice.
“Cannabis is a phenomenal tool – a powerful aphrodisiac that can be an amazing addition to your sex life”
I work one-on-one, putting my clients through a pretty intensive interview and engagement process. One of the questions I pose is: 'How do you want cannabis to be reflected in your ideal romantic relationship?' Some people are everyday consumers and want the same from a partner, whereas others do it occasionally but look at it as a way of seeing if someone is open-minded. Some clients don’t ever consume THC but are really into CBD. It’s typically not my clients’ top priority, but cannabis is a part of their identity and lifestyle.
I then find someone who is aligned with what they’re searching for. I look through my database and also recruit outside of it on my client’s behalf, emailing, posting on social media, going to events and connecting with cannabis influencers in different markets.
The strangest requests I’ve had are when people are looking for a specific look (such as someone like Hagrid from Harry Potter), or those wanting to share random passions such as obscure foreign languages. I always try to satisfy my clients’ wishes but they can get to the point where they’re being too picky and missing out on great opportunities. That’s when I sit them down and say: ‘Hey, there’s only so much I can do! I can’t create the perfect person from scratch.’”
Cannabis lawyer: Katy Young, Founding Partner of Ad Astra Law Group
“I’m a litigator who handles cannabis cases in the USA. The law on cannabis in the United States is clear as mud. I can make recommendations to my client based on what I believe is going to be the best good faith interpretation of the law, but a lot of things that I litigate are novel issues that have never been decided before. Nobody knows what’s going to happen and I find that absolutely exhilarating.
I work on partnership disputes, disputes between owners of cannabis businesses, securities issues involving disgruntled cannabis investors, real estate issues and intellectual property disputes.
Cannabis has provided my firm with tremendous business opportunity. There are a couple of ways to get involved because the industry needs all kinds of lawyers: environmental lawyers, product liability attorneys, securities lawyers, intellectual property, transactional people, litigators of all kinds. The best way to get your foot in the door is to develop skills in a more traditional market and transfer those skills to cannabis.
Start learning the landscape, and whatever your specialty was before, figure out how that applies. Start showing up: go to conferences, meet people, invite someone out to dinner. It’s a fairly risky business for law firms, not just because the legal outcome is so uncertain but because bigger institutional clients could be anti-cannabis and it’s possible that if they found out what you were doing for other clients they would take their business away. That hasn’t happened to me – in fact my non-cannabis clients always want to talk about my cannabis work because they find it fascinating.”
“Cannabis has provided my firm with tremendous business opportunity”
“Cannabis is very important to me: I think of it as medicine and it’s better for you than alcohol. There’s the problem with the racial undertones of why cannabis has been prohibited and I want that addressed: the only reason we are having this discussion is because countless cannabis users, growers, and advocates faced criminal charges for activity that is now legal. Too many black and brown brothers and sisters are still in jail while the former speaker of the House, John Boehner, sits on the advisory board of a cannabis business, and the business community is celebrating the commercial opportunity.
The War on Drugs in the United States has been an abysmal failure that mostly and unfairly targeted non-white populations. It is patently unfair that the War on Drugs affected communities of colour and now those people who helped us get to this point are not yet absolved of their prior crimes, still bearing the stigma of a criminal conviction.
The business case for legalising cannabis in the United States is also compelling, given the problems states have with not having enough tax money to go round. In a conference several years ago, I sat next to a mayor of a small town in Southern California who said he’d never tried cannabis but allows commercial cannabis activity to take place in his town through a medical dispensary. In two years, they had acquired enough money through taxes to build a new school. 'I can’t keep this from my constituents,' he said. 'It’s the best thing for my town.' President Trump, for all his foibles, is a business guy – he might just be the crazy-enough person to push it through.”
Cannabis Brand CEO: Rob Hickman, Co-founder of Tyson Ranch
“Cannabis helped save my life in many ways. I don’t drink alcohol – nothing good ever came to me from drinking alcohol. However cannabis has benefitted my mental wellbeing in lots of ways and I've used many parts of the flower for various purposes – such as THC and CBD when I was experiencing pain.
I'm the CEO of Tyson Ranch, the cannabis company founded by myself and former heavyweight boxing champion, Mike Tyson. Our business model is different to most cannabis-based businesses. We're not interested in acquiring licenses to grow or sell cannabis. We focus on brand building. Basically, we want to be like the brand Tropicana, not the farmers that Tropicana purchases their oranges from. The cannabis market is missing a big name brand that you trust will consistently create top-shelf products with a consistent brand identity.
I’ve known for a while that Mike was an advocate for cannabis consumption; he’d spoken freely to me about how cannabis had benefited his life in similar ways to mine. Our passion for the plant led to a serious conversation about how we could help others and create a business that fuelled our passion. Once we decided to do it, we followed the same simple formula that Mike used to win the heavyweight championship: hard work and discipline, building the best team and working harder than everyone else.
Mike isn’t just a partner in name. He does the work. He comes into the office every day, rolls up a joint, and his sleeves, and helps us make a difference. He is a force; an amazing resource when it comes to driving the message and living the story.
“Mike isn’t just a partner in name. He does the work. He comes into the office every day, rolls up a joint, and his sleeves”
We employ about 50 people in California and when The Ranch construction is finished, we estimate we'll employ another thousand people in the Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs area. We're currently hiring several hundred in the Nashville and Las Vegas area as well – chemical engineers, biochemists and manufacturing production and logistics specialists, as our hemp extraction labs ramp up.
My day starts at 4am. I take a long walk down to get my exercise and centre myself. Then I head off to work in LA. On the way in, I field an hour of phone calls to see what has changed overnight and by 8.30am, I'm meeting with the Executive Staff for updates and redirecting things as needed. At 9.30am Mike and the madness arrive.
My day is a blur of meetings, pitches and working on our podcast – Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson. Mike and I consume cannabis daily, joints mostly, and I will smoke anywhere between two to 10 times per day. We even have a CRO (Chief Rolling Officer) and sometimes now smoke in a glass water pipe.
At 5.30pm the office starts to slow down and empty, and by 7.30pm, I'm the last one there. My advice to anyone wanting to join the cannabis industry is, if you're doing it for the money, don’t. If you love the plant and the movement, make your mark and be a part of history. The bottom line is, when it becomes a legal crop (federally), the risk will be removed and it will enter the fabric of the economy. Most farmers already do it for little margin. As more groups enter the market, these margins will continue to contract, and it will become no cheaper or easier. It is work. Cannabis, welcome to the real world."
Cannabis Edibles Chef: Jeff Danzer aka JeffThe420Chef
“It all started about seven years ago. A family member and a close friend were both diagnosed with terminal cancer and were told that cannabis could help. Cannabis was medically legal in California and they asked me if I could make them some cannabis-infused cookies. I wasn’t even a chef at the time, I was just a cook that made really great cookies. What I gave them helped, but they couldn’t deal with the cannabis taste. So I set out to remove it.
I started inventing different solutions and culinary processes to put the cannabis through. To get it right took a year and a half. The process now takes three days and has many stages, but the result tastes pretty much like nothing. From our 'tasteless' cannabis, we went on to create odourless cannabis – smokable cannabis which has no smell. I currently have a patent pending – ‘FreeLeaf’ – for the process.
Word quickly spread that I was doing tasteless edibles and now I cater dinner parties and events in California and throughout the country where cannabis is legal medically and recreationally. My clients range from celebrities to brands, to private individuals who just want to enjoy the infused experience.
“If you’re really good at something – the best baker or the best chocolatier – then figure out how to incorporate cannabis into that”
We’re very responsible with how we do our dinner parties. We will never serve anyone more than 15mg THC. Our official maximum is 10mg, but sometimes we’ll increase it up to 15mg for more experienced users. At a celebrity dinner in the Hills once, one guy came into the kitchen and said: ‘Yo dude, I heard you’re only going to give us 10mg – that’s way too little for me. I need, like, at least 100mg, I’m a 300mg Korova guy,’ which means he’s typically used to eating Korova candy, which used to sell candy bars of over 100mg. 10mg will usually make a person feel they’ve had two or three glasses of wine on an empty stomach. If we serve Hazy Thai Wings, each wing will have 1mg, so if you only wanna ingest 5mg, you can have five wings.
Most days I spend in the kitchen: improving my recipes and getting ready to open up the first Cannabis Edibles Lounge in West Hollywood. I have a group of five testers who taste my dishes but I also do a lot of testing myself. Now is the time to get into cannabis. If you’re really good at something – maybe you’re the best baker or the best chocolatier – then figure out how to incorporate cannabis into that. It doesn’t have to be THC. CBD is a big thing now and if you can incorporate CBD into what you’re famous for, or what you’re good at, you can do very, very well for yourself.
Cannabis has always been a big part of my life and I consume it multiple times a day. I have ADHD and cannabis puts me in a really clear and great headspace. I’m not a stoner, I would say that I’m more of a ‘cannabis enthusiast’; it just enhances my life tremendously. My fervent hope is that the US Congress will federally legalise cannabis. There’s no reason for it to be treated like heroin and cocaine, it’s not a processed chemical substance. It’s actually just an incredible herb with highly medicinal properties.”