With the advent of recreational marijuana sales in January, the state marijuana industry added approximately 1,000 to 2,000 jobs. That brought total marijuana-related employment in Colorado to about 10,000, according to the Denver-based Marijuana Industry Group.
Those positions span everything from budtenders to counter sales to auditors, and together compose one of the most rapidly growing employment sectors in the state. As well as providing a source of jobs that previously did not exist, the marijuana industry is offering some the chance to retool in an economy that has held slim opportunities.
Front-of-the-house dispensary jobs tend to favor customer service or sales backgrounds and require a depth of knowledge about strains, effects and use of a variety of marijuana products. It isn't unusual to find folks with pharmacy, horticultural or agricultural backgrounds in various positions. Pay rates generally begin at minimum wage, though LivWell recently posted a budtender position on Craigslist that pays $10 per hour plus benefits, and postings in Denver and Boulder sometimes show a wage of $12 and higher.
One posting for a new center in northern Colorado Springs says it would like to hire growers, as "we know there are people out there who really know there stuff and would consider." But if "you haven't ran over 50 lights and can't hit close to 2 [ounces] a light or more [then] do not bother." Pay for that position is dependent upon previous experience, though entry-level trimmers elsewhere generally start between $10 and $12.50 per hour.
Regardless of the position, Manitou Springs resident and former New Yorker Judith Posch, 39, is excited at the prospect of new jobs and is seeking to move from her chosen career — proofreading and copy editing — into working in a dispensary. "I got a proofreading job right out of college," she says. "But over the years the options have dried up. So I'm in Colorado, [and] this is something I am interested in anyway. Why not make a move?"
Posch, who is open about her personal usage, is pleased to see the walls in this particular part of the War on Drugs crumble. "As open-minded and advanced as New York is in so many ways, on this issue Colorado is far ahead of New York," she says. "It's exciting: I support RMJ and MMJ, and it's wonderful that there is all this economic possibility with legalization."
The Marijuana Enforcement Division processes applications for licenses to work in dispensaries. As of late 2013, they were difficult to obtain simply because there were so many more applications than there were workers to process them. Since then, the state has almost doubled the number of folks working with the applications.
All of those workers will be enforcing rules that state applicants "must be age twenty-one or older; may not have any controlled substance felony convictions or any other felony convictions that have not been fully discharged for five years prior to applying; may not have any delinquent governmental or child support debt; and must be a Colorado resident at the time of application."
Key employees, who make operational or management decisions that directly impact the business, such as master growers, undergo a full background check and provide two years of tax information. Their application fee is $300 (annual renewal, $200). Support employees, such as budtenders, do not need to provide tax records but also undergo a background check. That application fee: $150 (annual renewal, $75).
Employers want prospective employees to come to them with background checks complete, says Joe, a head of store operations at Maggie's Farm who did not wish to provide his last name.
"It's less about the money to be 'badged' than knowing prospective employees have a clean background check," he says. "This industry is under great scrutiny, so you want to have people with the highest ethical standards — even [for] entry-level positions."
While scrutiny about personal use may vary from dispensary to dispensary, use of any drug or alcoholic substance while on the job is grounds for termination at Maggie's Farm, as a matter of compliance with state regulations. And while there is definitely economic opportunity, Maggie's Farm gets 30-plus applications for every position available. To be clear, these are from people who have paid the $150 or $300 and have passed the licensing background checks.
Applications must be made in person at the MED office at 455 Sherman St., #390, in Denver or by appointment at the Colorado Springs office at 1030 S. Academy Blvd., #200. Applicants are also fingerprinted and will pose for a photo that will be placed on their occupational license badge.