Picture this — you’re sitting in class, identifying different strains for your cannabis degree. Sounds pretty cool, right? While this isn’t our reality just yet, it’s a future we can imagine once federal legalization takes place. 

As millions of students trade debt for a degree, people are starting to question the importance of obtaining higher education. While some career paths certainly require extended curriculum (they don’t teach open heart surgery in high school!), is a degree really necessary for the cannabis industry? Because the legal industry is so new, most colleges do not yet offer cannabis-focused curriculum (but some are starting to). In a society where having a college degree is expected for many professions, does the cannabis industry conform to these requirements or does it play by its own rules? Let’s dive into some common cannabis positions to find out.

Entry-Level Trimmers, Harvesters, Packagers and Budtenders

do you need to go to college to work in cannabis

Entry-level positions like trimmers, packagers, and budtenders are often the first type of roles someone without prior experience takes to get into the industry. These roles pay close to or slightly above minimum wage, and typically don’t require previous cannabis experience. If you’re ready to jump into the industry today, you’re in luck! Most of these roles do not require a degree. 

Companies hiring for budtenders often look for candidates with previous retail or customer service experience. Trimmers and packagers don’t require much prior experience, and instead, businesses value a strong work ethic, dependability and consistency in candidates over previous knowledge or education. Some companies prefer to hire harvesters without prior experience so they don’t join the team with previously taught “bad habits,” while other companies would rather the harvester have prior knowledge, so they don’t have to spend too much time on training. It simply depends on the company. 

Think you’ve got what it takes? Check out our GIGS platform and our “how to work in the industry by state” tool to jumpstart your cannabis career.

Mid-Level Dispensary Store Managers, Grow Managers, and Extraction Managers

degree in cannabis

It probably comes as no surprise — managerial positions require relevant cannabis industry experience. Many managerial positions in cannabis prefer a college grad, but that isn’t always a requirement. Experience is still one of the most essential factors in the hiring process. If you’re hoping to skip the entry-level positions and start as a manager in cannabis, chances are you’ll get skipped over for someone with prior cannabis experience. However, if you have cannabis experience and a degree relevant to the position, you may have a leg up against another candidate who only has experience. 

For dispensary store manager positions, prior experience is usually more important than a college education. For grow managers, plant science education is just as important as prior experience, as the more responsibility you take on in a grow, the more necessary it becomes to have a deep understanding of the plant, usually gained through a combination of college education and hands-on training. 

Extraction managers also need a degree in chemistry and a deep understanding of the cannabis extraction process. It’s definitely a “don’t try this at home” profession. Many lab positions require prior lab experience, which is typically only gained through obtaining a science-related degree. While it is possible to obtain some of these positions with experience only, competition for these jobs is fierce, and those with a related degree take precedence over those with experience only.

Corporate positions – COO, CFO, marketing, tech and other ancillary roles

cannabis college degree

If you’re not interested in working directly with the plant but still want to work in the industry through a more traditional corporate role, a college education is almost always required, just like most other industries hiring for corporate roles. Sometimes, a strong experience background in cannabis may excuse you from needing a degree, but more often than not, a college degree relevant to the field you want to work in is a baseline for corporate positions. Most ancillary roles work just like other industries, where education, experience and skill set are all taken into consideration during the interview process. 

So, do you need a degree to work in the cannabis industry? While you don’t need one to start working in entry-level positions, a degree will come in handy if you plan to advance in your role. As the industry continues to grow, more colleges will start to offer cannabis-specific career paths, and those with both relevant experience and education will advance in the industry.   

Alternatively, if you choose to stay with the same company throughout your career (which is very rare), you may have the opportunity to advance without needing a college education. Employers value experience in the cannabis industry and with a strong work ethic, willingness to learn and dedication to your role, you could potentially advance to high-level positions within the company without the need for a degree.

A college degree – not required, but may come in handy

Not having a college education shouldn’t scare you from joining the industry. Just like most other fields, hands-on experience is a valuable attribute, but a college degree can make it easier to progress in your profession. With the wealth of knowledge available at our fingertips, you can study up on cannabis topics within your desired career to give yourself a leg up in the job search. Strain education, cannabinoid and terpene familiarity, common types of consumables and understanding the seed to sale process are all great topics to educate yourself on. Make sure to check out our guide on common cannabis industry acronyms as well, so you can talk the talk during your next interview.  

Cannabis education and experience are important for this industry, but what about past records? For an industry built around a plant that is still illegal for adult-use in many states, it’s no surprise that some job seekers may have a prior record. If you’re worried about a charge affecting your career — there’s still hope. Thanks to some businesses in the cannabis industry now offering social equity programs, certain charges won’t prevent you from participating in the growing industry. The cannabis industry is a bit more forgiving than other traditional industries (as it should be). If you think you’ve been negatively impacted by the war on drugs, check out our social equity program. If you qualify as a social equity applicant, we’ll connect you with businesses interested in hiring social equity job seekers. 

If you’re passionate about joining the industry, you can use the resources available to you (like the ones mentioned above!) to make it happen. When you’re ready, check out some full-time positions in cannabis near you by clicking here! Good luck in your search!

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