Why the cannabis industry is one of the hardest to work in

Published Jun 4, 2021 11:00 a.m. ET
iStock / cyano66

The cannabis industry is exciting, engaging, and a whole lot of fun which is why so many people are vying for the opportunity to start a business or work within this new market. It’s a truly great place to both live and work, always moving, evolving, and shifting towards a better, brighter tomorrow, but all of those great benefits come with a handful of downsides that make it one of the hardest industries to both thrive and succeed in.

1. Strict regulations

Regulations surrounding how all cannabis business is conducted are some of the strictest in the world, second to only alcohol, which is available in both convenience and big box stores right across several countries. These production, extraction, and business rules are stringent while also lingering in a constant state of change. As we iron out the kinks that come with a brand-new industry, some of these issues should sort themselves out, but in the meantime, it’s really hard to abide by regulations at the same time as delivering to consumers what they really want.

2. The rules are location-dependent

After a few years of working in the cannabis industry, you might think that you’ve memorized all of the rules, and with experience under your belt, the idea of expanding your horizons may be appealing, but unfortunately, this can often mean moving from one region to another, which is enough to launch cannabis professionals into what is likely to feel like an entirely different world. That’s because of those pesky rules we’ve mentioned, as they change so dramatically from one area to the next, oftentimes even within the same country, that it’s impossible to keep up with them all.

3. Advertising restrictions

All advertising must meet a certain standard to make it on air or billboards, understandably so, but cannabis is different, as it can’t be openly promoted just anywhere. Much like the plant-touching portion of the industry, advertising cannabis is a tricky business. It can’t be displayed in any way that might be mistaken as kid-friendly (i.e., no friendly, bright, or outgoing colours), and ads may only be used in adult-specific venues many of which don’t allow for enough room to reach all cannabis consumers. Try to sell a product just once without advertising it, and then you’ll see how hard this game can be for even the most business-savvy professionals.

4. Risk

No matter what kind of business you’re a part of a small risk is part of the package. Thefts occur daily, and break-ins are becoming more common, especially in the cannabis industry. This is likely because of the sheer worth of a storage room full of legal pot products, but it’s coupled with the next fact on our list, which is that banking services are often challenging to obtain, making it much more likely for cannabis business owners to have larger than average sums of cash on hand. Of course, this makes them a target, which is why those who work in this industry must be extra vigilant.

5. Banking services are a challenge

The lack of banks that are willing to work with the cannabis industry is extremely concerning, and not just because it can make it more difficult for business owners to make frequent deposits. If you’re hoping to start a business, getting a loan can be almost impossible, and locations hoping to maintain debit as a form of payment are often left scrambling for less conventional, far more expensive options to meet the needs of customers. Even those that do manage debit have difficulty obtaining the technology and computer systems required to run the bank's software. At every turn, banking is a struggle, and it can get in the way of what could otherwise be an incredibly successful business plan.

6. The stigma

Weed might be more socially acceptable than any time in recent history. However, the stigma surrounding the plant and anyone who comes in contact with it still remains. Unfortunately, this means that cannabis businesses and anyone who works or visits them are likely to experience some form of hate and discrimination. It could be neighbours that are unhappy about a new business addition to their area or random people that judge harshly enough to keep great potential employees from applying for a job. Either way, if you work in the industry, you’re bound to experience this kind of ignorance, and it can be hard to deal with year after year.

7. High taxes

Taxes on cannabis products vary greatly from one region to the next, but the majority of regulators and government put the figure somewhere between 15% and 40%. This is one of those business rules that have no workaround, leaving owners and investors with a meager revenue stream while taking all of the risks. This is precisely why we see so many of the same types of cannabis business locations like dispensaries because they’re tested and considered to be the safest possible bet. Sadly, this leaves consumers with fewer choices, a reality we’re watching play out first-hand.

8. Misinformation

Misinformation is a bane to the cannabis industry because it confuses customers long before they ever step foot in a green store or business. One example of this is when people set out looking for medicinal strains, under the illusion that such a thing actually exists, when it’s the effects, not the strains designation, that is important. It’s impossible to advertise pot products for any specific medicinal use, as that would require making health claims, a thing that’s banned in most regions. This confusing mess of misinformation hurts everyone in the cannabis industry, but it impacts those who work in it the most adversely, as they try to work towards educating the masses.

9. Medical professionals are not on board

You’ve probably heard some wonderful things about cannabis-inspired doctors who are successfully treating patients of all ages, but sadly they are not the majority. In fact, most doctors don’t know the first thing about cannabis, and quite a few still maintain a stigmatized view of the plant. Despite the clear medical benefits of cannabis, the most trusted medical associations and professionals are hesitant to do anything but fight against this uncomfortable change, and it’s really slowing down the progress that’s being made in the green industry.

10. Social media is off-limits

One of the first things that every business professional needs to learn about is networking, as it opens doors to what would otherwise be hidden opportunities, but the cannabis space is rarely welcome in the integral world of social media. It consumes our daily lives, with apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram taking up precious space on our devices. Unfortunately, for the most part, those who work in cannabis are banned from openly discussing and promoting their work, which can really get in the way of a brand-new business's growth.

It’s not all doom and gloom, and much of what you see listed here should eventually be corrected over time, as advocates, consumers, and business professionals demand more fairness for this heavily picked-on market. Still, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before diving in, so these are all things that should be considered if you’re hoping to take a leap into cannabis.

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