Spending the last 5 years in the Cannabis Industry, I am often asked, what does it take to break into the industry? There are some basic principles of entry that are often discussed. Those would include access to capital, real estate that is appropriately zoned, a local or state government that is friendly to cannabis, partnerships with local communities, and the ability to navigate hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages of paperwork. Those items only scratch the surface.
For those of us who have spent legitimate time working in the industry, we have a joke - "One year in cannabis is like seven years in other businesses." We also say that "if you haven't lost 100K to a bad business partner - you are not really in the industry." This industry is not for those with a weak stomach.
On any given day, we wake up to problems that traditional businesses never face. For instance, due to the Schedule 1 status, at any given moment, we could lose access to banking. Almost all transactions are cash. In large facilities, this means that millions of dollars are rolling around, being counted, then recycled into the ATMs, and payments to vendors. In what industry, is it common to pay vendors, thousands of dollars, in cash? This also means that we can't take credit cards. There are solutions evolving like the pin-debit - the so called "cashless ATM". However, for the first time shopper, it is tough to explain why only cash is accepted. The ultimate irony is that taxes can be paid in cash and subsequently deposited by the tax collector.
Next, there is not a standardized barcoding system that traditional retailers are privy to. Every single retailer must solve for this. Some retailers apply a standard barcode to every package, others have different work arounds. In any circumstance, there is a labor expense, and risk of potential inventory discrepancies.
Now lets talk about the controversy of cannabis itself. It is becoming more common for a community to embrace a cannabis company walking in. However, I have been to dozens of City Council meetings, and I remain surprised - every time - of those who openly show disdain for us.
Knowing the history of the industry, I know that this disdain is an opinion cultivated from years of messaging from the War on Drugs. I also know that the disdain may come from bad actors and prior black market players that have given us a bad reputation.
However, what I have learned is that if you respond to disdain with disdain, you really risk perpetuating the perception that we are bad. You have to balance this fine line of trying to address concerns and hopefully, shifting that individual's opinion on cannabis. So there is a level of Emotional IQ that must be finely honed to respond to a sometimes never-ending level of negativity. People dislike you simply because of the work that you do.
We have donated money to charity and had it refunded because of our industry! I maintain a non-cannabis brand for times when I want to be charitable, but know that cannabis must remain a secret. Can you believe that?
These are only a few examples of the challenges we face on a daily basis. Don't get me started on the movement toward "wet signatures", the negligence of application scoring companies, open corruption in local governments, or the absolute bane of my existence -Deficiency Notices. I have stories for days and I am sure you do to!
So if you ask me what it really takes to work in cannabis, it is tenacity, grit, and hunger. Without these core skills, there really isn't an entry point. You must face each day with a resolve to push the needle forward and open acknowledgement that you do not know what problem you will have to solve today. If you are upset by those problems, it will be a long road.
The most successful entrepreneurs I know have mastered these skills. There is a level of "don't give up" that cannot be matched. In fact, there is a special kind of inherent love for the risks faced and I find that is the most exciting part of working in cannabis! It is figuratively and often literally, the Wild Wild West. The things we do, the stories we have, we cannot make it up.
So as I mount each day with a never-ending desire to propel progress forward, I take some advice from Doc Holiday, "There's no normal life, there's just life. Now get on with it!"
It is us that will change the minds or our peers, move business forward, and ultimately serve the social purpose of giving the plant back to the world. Every community deserves equal access to cannabis. I remain motivated by keeping this mission in mind.
What motivates you?