Why are Business Professionals Hesitant to Enter the Cannabis Industry?

By Tyler Dautrich

The stigma associated with cannabis and its federal illegality prevent the normalization of cannabis business.

I recently had a discussion with a colleague of mine on how the cannabis industry lacks business sophistication. There are not many MBA level, or proven business professionals, that have made a living and name for themselves in another industry, entering the cannabis space. At first glance, you would think there should be, primarily because they can leverage their previous expertise and success into a new, multi-billion dollar space. Instead, those professionals are watching from afar and eying a move to enter the industry five to ten years down the line.

It just so happens that the individual I was speaking to is in the situation described above, so I asked why? Why not leverage your success and make a name for yourself in this industry where there is clearly an opportunity? This individual is coming from a legal background so this piece will focus on that area primarily. However, the story is the same for many others that come from different professional backgrounds.

They informed me that entering the cannabis industry could risk them potentially losing their license to practice law. They practice law in a state that does not have any form of cannabis legalization. So even if this person wanted to actively pursue working in the cannabis industry (where legal), they run the risk of potentially losing their license and not being able to practice law again. This creates a difficult decision for someone considering an emerging industry that still has an uncertain future.

Beyond putting professional careers and relationships in jeopardy, the cannabis stigma affects personal lives. It amazes me that there is still an extremely negative stigma that surrounds this industry. No matter the level of professionalism the industry demonstrates, many still think working with cannabis could be considered unprofessional.

I know from first hand experience in talking with a handful of professionals that are working in the industry, they do not tell everyone what their job is. Or they use their job title from their other current, or previous, job outside of the industry. They do not want certain individuals to know they are in the industry because they know it will damage their current reputation in certain groups.

This is one of the recurring issues with startups not only going through Greenhouse Ventures accelerator program, but throughout the industry. Many lack that level of business sophistication to have the know-how and ability to scale and grow their startup. Yes, they are the founding team and they have the idea and the vision, but they are not the team that investors put their faith and capital in.

My question is, what needs to happen to start attracting these business professionals into the cannabis space? We have already seen a few of the more risk averse professionals jump ship, but a majority are still hiding in the shadows or watching from the sidelines.

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  1. Brian Penny

    It’s all about the legalization. Until it’s federally decriminalized, everyone involved is committing a crime in open daylight. In order to participate in the cannabis business, you have to be willing to commit a crime.

    Although it’s been reduced to the level of jaywalking, which is considered socially acceptable so long as you’re not endangering anyone, many professionals simply don’t want the stigma of openly committing a federal crime.

    I’m only a freelance journalist, covering about a dozen industries, including video games, security, business, finance, virtual reality, vaping, SEO, and cannabis. As soon as I mention cannabis, many publications instantly don’t want to work with me because they assume I’ll mention cannabis. Of those that do, some are ok with covering cannabis, and some specifically tell me not to mention my association in my writing as often as possible because they’re hoping to target demographics under the recreational age limit in the key 18-35 demographic.

    1. Tyler Dautrich

      I agree that complete federal legalization is what it will take to make all professionals feel unthreatened and comfortable entering into the cannabis industry. The only problem with that is the timeline. There is not legitimate timeline in place as to when the feds will change their views on the plant. It obviously will be at least a few more years down the road. That means these professionals will have to; 1) stay operating from the shadows, 2) enter into another industry to keep an income, or 3) take a “risk” and fully enter the industry. All of these options come with an opportunity cost, which is unfortunate because it is turning so individuals away from the industry, that if involved, could have a terrific impact.

      Thanks for your comment though Brian. Another example of how this undeservingly, negative stigma is effecting professionals trying to enter the industry.

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