The New Frontier – Transitioning to Cannabis

by | Aug 27, 2018

Written by Kristina Etter

Kristina is a digital content creator and designer. She has a talent for creating engaging and informative content that resonates with our professional audience. Kristina’s passion for the cannabis industry stems from her belief that it has the potential to revolutionize the world in many ways, and has a personal testimony of cannabis success.


The birth of a new industry brings exciting new career opportunities for early adopters, visionaries, and entrepreneurs. The cannabis industry is no different and just as the Green Rush is set to launch into the mainstream, many are taking the plunge – not only redefining their own career potential but bringing real-world experience and professionalism to the cannabis industry.

Whether seeking greener pastures, burned out on the status quo, or simply elevating their career prospects, many professionals are making the transition into cannabis. As the industry continues to flourish, many people are looking for any way possible to get their foot in the door of an industry predicted to top $22.6 billion in revenue in just 3 years.

Breaking Down the Cannabis Barriers

Today, more and more professionals are breaking down doors and busting through stigmas as they transition from high-paying corporate jobs to the uncertainties of start-up enterprises in cannabis. However, getting your foot in the door may take more than a simple knock.

In a conversation with David Feligno, the Director of Business Development at Ascend Executive Search, and, VP of Talent at STEM Cultivation, he reminds, the cannabis industry might not be the easiest door to open.

He summarized his experience recruiting for the industry by stating, “It’s great work… if you can get it.” Then he continued, “Cannabis tends to be a who you know industry, and trust (as in who trusts you and are you trustworthy) seems to be the common thread I hear. Since Cannabis companies (dispensaries, cultivators, product manufacturers) are inundated with requests to join them they tend to have a ‘pick of the litter’ mentality when it comes to certain things, especially growers and cultivating/extraction technicians.”

Don’t Lose Your Niche

While we typically think of cannabis careers from a “plant-touching” aspect, growers, budtenders, trimmers, and extraction technicians, you don’t have to learn a new trade to start a career in the field. In fact, it doesn't matter what your niche in the world is, chances are good, your existing skillset can be applied to the cannabis industry. Legal cannabis is still in the infancy stages and as with any other industry certain administrative, technical, and infrastructure positions are in high demand. As such, a diverse range of opportunity seekers is finding a new path within the industry including lawyers, accountants, scientists, computer programmers, and dozens of other traditional corporate jobs.   

Feligno commented, “This is certainly an industry where people of all walks of life can be successful. As we say at STEM Cultivation, ‘Let's do business with like-minded people because that is our best chance at success.’”

Defining Success

Per this salary chart from Hemp Staff, the range of salaries in the marijuana industry have an average range of $35,000 to $56,000 per year. However, Feligno says, “When we compare what a senior engineer would make (mechanical, electrical, or software) as a tech or product provider to the industry, I have seen those salaries being on par with what people are making now.” He explained most cannabis startups have already secured their funding to pay top dollar for every possible position from Executive staff to individual contributors.

Despite a higher rate of failure in cannabis startups meaning greater risk, the reward is also great.

A Few Who Made It

Shellene Suemori is an excellent example of taking advantage of a prior skill set and adapting it to fit within the cannabis industry. Recently speaking with CannabisTech, Suemori, a former NASA-funded scientist, talks about her transition from more traditional molecular biology to Chief Science Officer for The Pharm in Arizona.

Also, in a recent article, Engineering in the Cannabis Industry, Dylan Wilks, Founder, and CEO of Orange Photonics, spoke of his family history in the industry of defense and how he feels the cannabis industry is giving him an alternative way to utilize his skills, “The cannabis industry is the exact opposite of defense,” Wilks stated. “Why utilize skills to destroy things, when here in the cannabis industry we get to help people and still have a good, high-paying engineering job.”

Additionally, J.P. Martin, who transitioned from high-level positions with Booz Allan, Advantage Solutions, and most notable, SpaceX, working for Elon Musk. Today, Martin is the CEO of GrowX, a company focused on aeroponic grow techniques in the cannabis sector.

Launching into Cannabis

For those seeking to move into a career in the cannabis industry, Feligno offered his advice as a recruiter. “As with any transition, you need to plan the work, and then work the plan,” Feligno advised. “Candidates need to research, network, and be organized,” then he continued, “they should be prepared to hear a lot of NO's before they hear a YES. This is just experience-based and comes with the territory.”

Nothing worth having ever comes easy, but with determination, a cannabis career can provide an unlimited opportunity for those willing to put in the effort. Regardless of your reasons for seeking a career change, the cannabis industry can provide revitalization, motivation, and new challenges to invigorate your inner passions and launch your career success to all new heights.

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