More Cannabis Businesses Need a Viable Human Resources Plan to Succeed and Expand

As legal marijuana companies grow and mature, they are facing both mainstream and uniquely canna-centric employment issues.

Despite all the uncertainties surrounding the legal cannabis industry, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the fastest-growing employment sectors in the United States.

A new report, quoted by Forbes, estimates that by 2020 the legal marijuana industry will create around 250,000 jobs – or more than the expected employment positions to be found in the nation’s manufacturing sector.

And with the legal cannabis market growing in both size and value, more cannabis companies are realizing that they need human resources professionals to handle both the mainstream challenges of managing a company as well as the unique issues facing legal cannabis businesses.

One such company, Denver-based Faces Human Capital Management (HCM), has been working on human resources management issues for legal cannabis companies since early 2015.

Christopher Cassese, the firm’s co-founder and managing director, says the biggest challenge for cannabis companies is not just attracting the right employees, but making sure those workers want to stay on the job.

Cassese says that the current turn-over rates in the cannabis industry are relatively high, on a par with most call center operations.  And according to a recent blog entry on that issue for the National Cananbis Industry Association, Caela Bintner – Faces HCM co-founder and managing director — said the job retention issue was three-fold.

“Employers in the legal cannabis sector might begin by hiring friends they can trust,” she wrote, “but soon discover those friends don’t have the skills or commitment needed to stay with their jobs.”

The industry also attracts a lot of Millennials, she noted; young people for whom work in a cannabis business might be their first “real” job, “and who statistically are notorious job-hoppers.”

And then there is the cannabis culture itself – which is still emerging from decades as an outlaw enterprise and which still looks askance, for the most part, on what many employees might consider a  standard corporate culture.

Cassese says standardizing operations at cannabis companies, while helping them maintain their unique work environments, are part of the challenges many legal marijuana entrepreneurs are willing to make.

“I would say one of the bigger surprises is how much the cannabis owners want to do with their people but that they don’t have the tools to do it,” he observes.

Many of these entrepreneurs, he says, are coming into the cannabis sector from other corporate fields. They are risk-takers and have managerial experience — but most find soon find themselves overwhelmed by the constantly-evolving rules imposed on a municipal and state level in cannabis-legal states..

“They’re so hyper-focused on the all the regulatory components,” Cassese says, “it seems like their ability to execute on what they want to do with their people just falls down. And it’s not because they don’t want to. Most of the owners, they all want to do great things with their people. But they’re so bogged down time-wise with creating products, creating a market (or) a marketing strategy that they find that’s there’s not enough time to execute on some of the people strategies.”

The companies that have done well in the cannabis sector, Cassese tells Blunt Network, “have a consistent, predictable experience for their employees. They have an on-boarding packet…where a new employee gets some swag. They have a benefits package to some extent, they have defined PTO (Paid Time Off) and they have an employee handbook that spells things out.”

And that is where HR management firms like Faces HCM are finding their niche – assisting cannabis companies in establishing and maintaining payroll systems, health benefits, workers compensation and other human resource services.

For those looking to make the jump into the legal marijuana market, Cassese suggests they evaluate their business strengths – as well as the areas where they need to grow.

“Be hyper-focused on what your business plan is, and the rest will fall into place.” he says. “You can’t be all things to all people. It’s a hyper-competitive market, outside of the fact that it’s hyper-regulated. So just be laser-focused on what your product and what your core competencies are, and look for the best partners that can help…and compliment your needs.”