America's green rush is accelerating this month, with experts reporting a record exodus from Corporate America to an expanding, legal $5.4 billion-and-growing weed country. Ambition was in no short supply last Friday night at an industry-only "Budtender's Bash" at a "secret" location that turned out to be a major music club on San Pablo Avenue in Uptown Oakland.
Hundreds of retail pot shop clerks — "budtenders" — just off shifts from dispensaries, many wearing work hoodies branded "Telegraph Health Center" and "Purple Heart Patient Center," talked about pot around dimly lit club tables.
The dress code was a flossy, community college casual: fresh denim and Converse; yoga pants with faux fur-hooded jackets, branded football jerseys and boots, prominent tattoos, exotic piercings, and a splash of tie-dye. Vape lifestyle brand Bloom Farms sponsored the show by Zion I and the free bar, but drunken debauchery wasn't an issue. Outside, the packed, hazy patio crowd was subdued yet extra-chatty.
Budtending is a beginning rung on the industry ladder — equivalent to a fast-food cashier's job — yet it's attracting as many aspiring CEOs with college degrees as community college and high school dreamers.
Thirty-six-year-old New Jersey native Dan Goldman moved ten months ago to Oakland's Fruitvale area to budtend. With a college degree in history, graduate work in education, and ten years of pot activist experience, Goldman landed a cashiering job at Oakland dispensary Phytologie. "'Should I jump in now? Am I going to miss it?' — that sense is getting more acute among people who would have never thought about this five or ten years ago," he said.
Goldman said friends who also want a job at Phytologie ask him, "'Do you know somebody?'" But he said there's little turnover at the shop, and three hundred people want the next job that opens there.
Marijuana industry staffing firm owner Danielle Schumacher said in an interview, "We pretty much can't keep up with demand [from job seekers]." Her two-woman, boutique firm, THC Staffing Group, focuses on top-shelf entrants to the industry: engineers, food scientists, chemists, sales and marketing directors, and business development directors. She said she gets about one hundred resumes per month and "10 percent of them are stellar. We say 'no' more than we say 'yes.'" she said. Her firm, she said, averages one placement a month.
Job hunters are moving from prohibition states, living off savings, and taking big pay cuts to get into cannabis. "They're willing to do almost anything to break into the industry," she said. "A majority of them are disillusioned with their current career path, and maybe at least half of them are motivated by money. Not only would it be something interesting that they could feel good about, they think they would be able to make more money or easier money."
This fever is reflected in new events and publications. This winter, The Newbie's Guide to Cannabis and the Industry by Chris Conrad (a longtime Oakland marijuana figure) and Jeremy Daw is being released. And in his April 2016 book Hot To Smoke Pot (Properly), David Bienenstock, a High Times and VICE writer, talks about joining the green rush.
Earlier this month, more than 1,200 women assembled in Denver for the national female professional pot industry networking conference, WomenGROW, which was headlined by Melissa Etheridge. In March, the Marijuana Investor Summit will draw thousands more to San Francisco.
Still, Schumacher cautions that outsider perceptions and expectations don't match industry reality. "The industry still has a long way to go as far as professionalism," she said.
Job seekers must put in extra time to build trust and reputation in an industry still subject to both federal raids and rampant hucksterism. "It's not something you can get into overnight," she said. The best shot that corporate transplants have is volunteering and accruing "actual time invested in the movement," she said. "Even though it's becoming more of an adult use industry, it's coming from a political, medical, and civil rights movement."
Patience and faith landed one seeker his dream job. Twenty-six-year-old Oakland native Jasper Steen celebrated his sixth week at Phytologie by hanging with work friends until midnight at last week's bash. Steen enjoyed pot in his teens. Later, he said, "I looked it up and I realized that people are actually needing cannabis to help them get along."
His eyes well up with tears when talking about soothing his grandmother's disabling arthritis with non-psychoactive cannabis juices, rubs, and balms. "I'm sorry," he said. "It's my grandma."
When the Oakland Coliseum area club opened, "I knew I wanted to be in there," he said.
Steen's past jobs were at Sears, FoodCo, and in construction. He applied to Phytologie over and over again, he said, and kept following up. One day a hiring manager called, and he started the next Monday.
He is a product manicurist, cutting dried buds from their branches, and then the leaves from the buds — working through about a pound of flowers per day. "It's been the smoothest, easiest job," he said. The pay is "fine by me — fantastic. I can keep going and move forward. I can make a life with this."