4 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Getting Into the Cannabis Industry
How to navigate the obstacles and carve out solutions in an unpredictable industry.
As cannabis sales begin to skyrocket and more states start to legalize, entrepreneurs from all walks of life are flocking to cannabis to pursue exciting, equitable, and profitable ventures in a young and white-hot industry.
Not so long ago, I was one of them. In 2017, I co-founded the cannatech enterprise Veriheal with my business partner Sam Adetunji, with a bootstrapped business plan and dream to build a next-generation, minority-owned technology platform.
We've had great success, but it hasn't always been a smooth ride. Here are the top four things I wish I'd known before jumping into the cannabis industry.
1. Cannabis is less progressive than you think
While the cannabis industry is evolving at breakneck speed, you'll find quite a different story behind the scenes. Many aspects of the industry are woefully behind the times. Traditional institutions like banking, medicine, education, and marketing have resisted cannabis businesses. The lack of access to even the most basic services creates frustrating hurdles that entrepreneurs in other categories don't have to face.
The good news? Those gaps are ultimately opportunities because they force us to innovate. Veriheal has been successful because it solves a problem unique to the cannabis industry, connecting prospective patients with doctors certified to prescribe medical marijuana and helping them navigate varying state procedures to get their card once approved.
Cannabis is an industry with a lot of white space: problems to solve and market needs just waiting to be filled, which is any entrepreneur's dream.
2. The pushback comes from surprising places
When you tell the people closest to you that you're working cannabis, you may get a different reaction than you expect. When I first shared my idea for a cannabis startup with friends and family, they were less than enthusiastic. While they believed wholeheartedly in my concept and my ability to succeed, many expressed concern that I'd be targeted by police or even jailed for doing this work.
While cannabis is not yet federally legal, my business certainly is. We don't even touch the plant. Instead, we provide a technology platform for an essential service that educates and supports patients through the process of obtaining their medical cards. Interestingly, many people who apply for medical cards through Veriheal - especially minorities - say they're doing so in part for some extra protection should they tangle with law enforcement.
That wariness is the legacy of the failed War on Drugs and the sociopolitical baggage many minorities carry with them to this day when it comes to association with marijuana. This is also why it's so important to shine a light on the many examples of high-achieving black cannabis entrepreneurs and minority-owned businesses.
3. Social equity isn't guaranteed just because it's weed
If you think the cannabis industry will naturally foster a more diverse and equitable playing field, think again. While black Americans make up approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population and 9.5 percent of all U.S. business owners, only 4.3% of cannabusinesses are black-owned or founded, according to a survey conducted by Marijuana Business Daily. These numbers are particularly troubling when you consider the long history of systemic injustice that has plagued the black community where cannabis is concerned.
Don't let these statistics discourage you. Cannabis is a very young industry ripe with opportunity for those with the talent and hustle to persevere. In time, federal legalization will bring with it nuanced equity programs and social-justice-oriented regulatory bodies. Until then, as a community, we must take it upon ourselves to ensure minority entrepreneurs are receiving the education, funding, mentoring, and opportunities to help level the playing field.
4. Perseverance has a big payoff
Any aspiring entrepreneurs picturing a career in cannabis as just throwing money around at wild parties might want to reconsider their dream. Working in this industry takes passion, dedication, and a thick skin.
For me, working in cannabis is the best decision I could have ever made because I get to wake up every day and help others. I think the most successful cannabis entrepreneurs are driven by a greater purpose - like advocating for cannabis rights and education or criminal justice reform.
I'm not alone. A 2018 study revealed that 74 percent of professionals working in the cannabis industry were satisfied with their work. That's 20 percent more than the national average, which, according to a 2020 report, reveals that only 54 percent of employees across all industries feel satisfied with their job.
When the nation's stress and anxiety are at an all-time high, I've found that this industry as a whole truly values and prioritizes both mental and physical wellness, which fosters a much healthier professional environment than other fast-paced professions.
Yes, there are still many hurdles facing us cannabis entrepreneurs: discrimination, exclusionary banking, inconsistent legislation, or just the sheer saturation of competitive brands and ventures in the market. Despite it all, working in cannabis is the most personally, professionally, and financially rewarding experience of my lifetime.
As long as you navigate the obstacles, carve out a solutions-oriented lane of your own, and keep the people you're serving as a top priority, you'll be rewarded with an engaging and profitable career rooted in purpose and passion.