The cannabis industry is booming—we hear about it everywhere.
According to i502data.com, in 2016 Washington state recreational retail sales reached $696m. Since legalization in our state became official, the industry has totaled over a billion dollars. For Washington, $297,654,430 was collected in the month of July 2017, just in excise tax alone.
Cannabis has become a serious (and seriously successful) industry.
As pioneers for the beginning of the end of cannabis prohibition, the dispensaries of Washington state were given a golden opportunity in 2012. The success is obviously due to this wonderful and incredible plant, but as a result, we now have a workforce that in many other settings, would not be taken seriously.
How many jobs has the average person had that promote the sharing of information about cannabis or encourage (at home) cannabis consumption?
Outside of the recreational marijuana industry, it’s reasonable to assume, not many.
The people that work within the i-502 industry come from all different walks of life, but come together with a common appreciation of what cannabis has to offer. The medicinal benefits are being explored more and more each day, but even aside from that, at its most base we’re talking about a plant that brings people together.
Where did these employees and business owners come from? What were they doing before 2012 and before this line of work was a real (and legal) option?
I work for the management team at The Evergreen Market. We are a recreational cannabis business with three primary motives; to Educate, Celebrate, and Elevate. The plant all but sells itself, which makes our jobs pretty easy. What we at the Market would like is for you to come in and feel free to hangout with us; come talk to us about weed!
Allow me to tell you a little about who we are and where we come from.
My name is Nikki. I grew up in the same town that my parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents made their lives in. I started smoking pretty late in the game; I didn’t take my first hit until I was almost 21. I was always mistaken for a stoner, though, and the group of people I was drawn to that became my friends in high school certainly weren’t anti-marijuana. After graduating high school I moved out to the city and got my first job at an excellent tattoo shop located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Art was my passion and tattooing was where I wanted to go with it. When I turned 18 I started what would turn into a pretty extensive collection of ink.
After about a year, I lost some of my interest in becoming a tattoo artist myself and found new opportunities. I worked retail for a short while, was a supervisor for a fundraising company contracted by Save the Children, got into being a barista, which then led to bartending, where I was certain I had found what would turn into my long term career.
The last bar I managed closed when the owners decided to go into retirement. Due to a recent relocation out of the city and back to the south end, I was without my bartender connections and in an area with a much lower demand for my work. I had become a regular at a dispensary near where I lived; one visit my budtender encouraged me to bring by a resume. I did, and a few days later I got the phone call that changed absolutely everything.
I’ve been in the i-502 industry for over two years and I’m now up to 80 hours under the needle; I have visible tattoos including on my head, neck, hands, and face. I was passed up for a bar manager position at an upscale restaurant in the city. Yet, at home, within the cannabis industry I am responsible for a full staff and sales floor, with paid vacation time, a wage I didn’t think I would ever be at without adhering to a no-tattoo policy, and still miles of opportunity to go.
In my workplace, the way that I look has nothing to do with how my work ethic is graded. Aside from cannabis and the use of cannabis becoming increasingly more socially acceptable, the industry is doing something else by providing people like myself—who wouldn’t be taken seriously anywhere else—a place to thrive and succeed.
I asked some of my peers about their “former life” before joining the recreational cannabis industry and below are some of their responses.
Are you from Washington?
Lee Falley (Store Manager – Auburn): Yes, I grew up in Des Moines, WA. I went to high school in the 90’s when the cannabis culture began to come out of the closet again, as “just say no” was losing ground. I went to Hempfest 2 and signed my first legalize it petition. I think I grew up in a time that was at the forefront of re-educating the general public and I believe the overall acceptance of alternative lifestyles in the Western Washington have made it easier to be an open smoker.
Wacheke (Asst. Inventory Control – Ikea District): No, I have the great pleasure of being from Kenya. Cannabis there is a big no-no, it’s only understood to be for drug dealers and thugs. It is extremely frowned upon there.
Bri Williams (Data Analyst): I’m from what you could call “Middle of Nowhere,” Pennsylvania… about 5 minutes from the real-life Silent Hill. In PA it’s very taboo; if you smoke, you keep it quiet, but if you don’t, you judge anyone that does, typically. So no one ever talked to me about cannabis growing up, either good or bad. PA did pass a medical bill after I left, but the restrictive nature of it says everything you need to know about the general opinion of marijuana there: edibles, topicals and capsules only.
What do your parents think about cannabis?
Alyssa Blackwell (Purchasing Coordinator): My parents are super old school and traditional, until just recently have they opened their minds about the medicinal uses of marijuana (when I started in medical is when they started to listen). They do NOT smoke, however I have given them both some CBD chocolates which they enjoyed.
Lee Falley: The first 10 years of my life, we had a constant crop rotation in our garage which consisted of about 100 plants. I was raised to call them tomato plants. I was also raised in a biker culture; weed was hardly considered a drug my entire life.
Bri Williams: My mom was a Southern belle, raised in Georgia, and my father is both an ex-partier and ex-military. Outside of knowing it exists, the only message I ever heard about weed was from my mom who genuinely believed it was worse than cigarettes. It wasn’t until my dad found stems and seeds in my room about a year after I started smoking that he finally told me about how he smoked for several decades before getting a job that drug tests. I’m finally convincing my dad to start smoking again since I explained all the medical benefits to him.
When did you start smoking?
Vee Giessen (Asst. Manager – IKEA District): When I was 13 years old. Why start at 13? I needed help with medical pains, depression, and anxiety. My uncle (under secret from my family) helped me out and smoked with me or gave me edibles & joints.
Wacheke: I first tried it in high school out curiosity and probably peer pressure. But I did not really get into it until a few years later. I used it as a tool to get me through a difficult time in my life.
Alyssa Blackwell: My first toke was in 5th grade from an apple. I had two older brothers that were both potheads (runs in the family) that introduced me at a young age.
Did you attend college?
Lee Falley: Yes, I went to school to be a Chemical Dependency Counselor. I completed school and began my internship at SeaMar Treatment facilities in Mt. Lake Terrace. At the same time I was offered a position with my employer at the time, which made me choose a path. SeaMar announced they were moving their facility to Des Moines and there you go. I specialized in Overall Behavior Modification, and all addictions/disorders including but not limited to, eating, sex, anger, drugs and general therapy.
Vee Giessen: No.
Bri Williams: Yep, I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012 with a BS in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies. Seems useless, but I have a better understanding of why people do what they do as well as a more objective perspective.
What were you doing for work before the cannabis industry?
Alyssa Blackwell: I was a director at a preschool and teacher qualified for 8 years in Oregon. Moved to Washington and became a nanny until I made my way into medical – worked at a farm trimming, packaging, advertising, graphics, sales, and budtending. Store manager at Greenside for a year before coming to TEM.
Wacheke: I worked regular retail jobs. I actually enjoy my job now. It’s not very often that one gets a chance to be on the starting ground of a whole new industry. The vibrance and the energy are unmatched, you can feel everyone’s enthusiasm and excitement.
Vee Giessen: I was in coffee and aerospace. I was in “stepping stone” jobs until I could find a passion. Thanks to legalization, I found my career.
Bri Williams: Before joining the cannabis industry, I spent about 8 years or so in industrial supply doing every job they could toss at me: Management, inventory, data analysis, sales, accounting, janitorial, psychology, etc. What’s different between that and the cannabis industry is this industry provides an environment to be yourself… You don’t need to put on some alternative persona in order to wake up in the morning and come to work. People are more accepting of the genuine ‘you’ and it makes such a huge difference in stressful situations to know that you have people supporting you, not just because of your work quality but, because they value you as a person.
How did you get your first cannabis position?
Lee Falley: When my son was born in 2013, my wife and I quickly realized we would not be able to be the parents we wanted to be and operate our very busy little business at the same time. So almost 6 months to the day after my son was born, we signed the final paperwork to transfer ownership of “our first baby”, which was 15 years old at the time so we could focus on raising our new baby. We said that we would both be stay at home parents until he started preschool. January of 2017, my son was going to pre-school and I asked my wife if she wanted to go to work or if she wanted me to go to work. She chose to stay home and that meant I was on the job hunt. For the first time in my life while job hunting I had the opportunity to take my time and get a job because I wanted it and not because I needed it. So I asked myself, What do I LOVE???? Well, The Seahawks and Cannabis, both of which have been part of my life since day 1. So I chose Cannabis, I wanted to be a part of this emerging industry I had daydreamed about since last millennia. It was real now, it was here and I had to be a part of it. Next was Where? After visiting and shopping well over 20 rec stores, I narrowed it down to 2. The Evergreen Market was my first choice and they just happen to have been hiring for an Assistant Manager position. I applied and 1 phone interview, 1 in person interview and 1 group interview with the owners and store managers later, I was welcomed to The Evergreen Market and have not looked back. I am so lucky to have this opportunity to grow with this amazing company.
Alyssa Blackwell: The mother I was nannying for in Snoqualmie introduced me to the owner of Life’s RX where I began my first job in the industry budtending. Life’s RX is where I met a grower at Hang Roots, and joined his team.
Wacheke: I was a customer at my local Evergreen Market and I guess I made a pretty good impression because I was then offered an opportunity to apply.
What can other industries learn from the cannabis industry?
Bri Williams: If you promote a comfortable and genuine environment that’s exactly what you will receive back from your employees. People from all walks of life have the skills, work ethic and intelligence to fill all types of positions: do not judge the book by its cover when hiring employees.
Wacheke: Give people the freedom to be themselves and you will be surprised with how much people will be willing to give.
Lee Falley: That when suppliers, farms, processors and retailers are working together, great things can happen. You can literally change the world.
Vee Giessen: Biggest thing is to have more of a community feel. That there should be love, passion, etc in all that you do.
Where do you see the cannabis industry at in 10 years? 20 years?
Lee Falley: I believe that in 10 – 20 years cannabis will have lost its negative stigma. The 90’s kids who are mostly pro weed, will be the senior citizens of the world and our youth will grow up in a country or world that has been educated on the actual effects, benefits and uses of the amazing cannabis plant. I also believe that it will be feasible to use all parts of the plant and make sustainable alternative fuels and building materials. Medicines and cancer research should get a huge boost. As the stigma wears off and people open up the possibilities are endless and I am excited to see where time will take us.
Bri Williams: On the plus side: I see it being federally legal sometime within that future perspective, thus opening up the dialogue and breaking the stereotypes currently held due to being a Schedule I at this time. That will create research possibilities and hopefully we’ll end up in both a medical and materials science revolution. On the down side: It’s already happening, but big corporate weed is going to invade the market. Those kinds of facilities will limit the smaller grows and make the “Mom & Pop” grow less appealing to those looking to own a grow-op. In the long run that means less strain options, less independent citizens holding licenses, and potentially a decrease in overall flower quality.
Alyssa Blackwell: Probably similar to alcohol. It will be legal federally and across the country, but each state will still have their own laws/regulations. A lot more monopolizing (yikes) probably. I can see drug use and dependency as a country, going down. You will have the big dogs like Budweiser and Coors Light, but also your nice micro-brew type farms.
Wacheke: I see cannabis branching into all other major industries. Everything from pharmaceuticals to the manufacturing and even fashion. There is almost no end to what cannabis can be used for when people open their minds to the possibilities.
In addition to great products we pride ourselves on the people who create the experience—our staff. We would love the opportunity to hear the story of how cannabis has come into and affected your life; so come in, pull up a seat at the Knowledge Bar, and let’s talk about cannabis!
Written By: Nikki Marangon
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