Competencies of the Successful Cannabis Entrepreneur


It’s as simple as this: in the growing cannabis industry you can either sink or swim. Everyone wants a piece of the cannabis pie, but the reality is, not everyone has the competencies to survive in this industry.

Competencies are knowledge, skills and attributes you can develop in every aspect of your life. Competencies go beyond just being able to do something; they represent what you bring to work: both your past, your present, and your future, and what value you bring to the table.

Whether you are a start-up business, an entrepreneur looking for investors, or are on your way to developing a multi-million-dollar cannabis business, the development and maintenance of competencies should be a priority within your career.

Here are some core competencies that Growing Talent has identified for the cannabis industry:

Respect for Diversity (Walk the Walk)

There is a problem brewing with diversity in the cannabis industry. MJBizDaily recently reported on women and minorities in cannabis, showing that trends where 75% of leadership roles in companies are held by men. The number of women in executive positions in cannabis has fallen 9% between 2015 and 2017.

Only 1% of America’s dispensaries are black-owned. Only 20% of those with an ownership stake in cannabis companies identify as minorities. Founders and owners of cannabis businesses are 81% white, with only 6.7% identifying as “other”, 5.7% identifying as Hispanic or Latino, 4.3% identifying as African American, and 2.3% identifying as Asian.

We want to tip the scales to a cannabis future where minorities have true representation.

Cannabis entrepreneurs owe the cannabis industry the fresh start it deserves in terms of building equitable cannabis structures. Take a look at your cannabis business and see whether your workforce is truly diverse. Consider strategies that will allow you to increase the diversity of your workforce, or implement a diversity hiring strategy within your cannabis businesses.

Most importantly walk the walk of diversity, rather than just talking the talk. Recent critics of cannabis say that the industry is trying to elevate cannabis from its racist past by “whitewashing” the industry. Make sure the industry you put forth is truly representative of the people of America, not just the white people who are seemingly dominating the industry.


The cannabis industry is ever-changing, especially in terms of compliance. Earlier this year in California, businesses were scrambling to meet the new July 1 requirements that enforced changes to testing, packaging and labeling, and potency limits on cannabis edibles. For many cannabis companies, like Papa & Berkley and Caliva, who are topping the markets in their categories, it was an all-hands-on-deck approach with a bit of trial and error to get things right.

“We started preparing for July 1 regulations in earnest by January 1st. It wasn’t easy,” Dennis O’Malley, CEO of Caliva told Green Market Report “We cycled through a couple different testing labs until we felt confident we found the best.”

The successful cannabis entrepreneur doesn’t only keep up with the market, it stays ahead of the market by looking forward to regulations, and being prepared to make changes early; not just at the last minute.

Corporate Citizenship

“In 2018, the expectation is that companies will continue to expand their activism on, and investment in, the issues that matter to their employees, customers and communities,” says Susan McPherson in Forbes about corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Both large companies and small start-ups are being called to the table to come forth with a commitment to CSR, whether it’s a dedication to expanding diversity, forward-thinking activism, or raising the bar for quality standards across the industry.

Recently rebranded as “corporate citizenship” for the cannabis industry, industry leaders are examining how the cannabis business effects the economy and the environment, putting important CSR programs in place to give back and make their businesses more sustainable.

Commitment to Continuous Learning

There is never enough to learn about cannabis. Thankfully for the industry, now accredited academic institutions and private colleges are offering professional development opportunities for cannabis professionals. Private colleges offer courses that range from a few hours a few days include Green CultureED, Oaksterdam University, Cannabis Training Institute, and The Trichome Institute among many others.

Growing Talent offers an Incubator where black and brown entrepreneurs and startups can grow their business. This program offers courses like “Social Equity 101” and helps businesses with funding to bring their business plans to full fruition.

Cannabis professionals can also benefit from going back to school to get a formal degree from an accredited university, as more big-ticket cannabis jobs are looking for formal, and even graduate-level education. “For cultivation, I look for students with a degree related to agriculture. For extraction, I will look for someone with a chemistry or biology degree and background. For inventory, I look for MBA and supply management degrees and so on,” says Lilach Mazor Power, CEO, and co-founder of The Giving Tree, a cultivation center, to Forbes.

Collaboration Over Competition

As hard as it is to let go of full ownership of a company, sometimes the best businesses make themselves bigger by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Mergers and acquisitions are happening all over cannabis. From MadMen, Constellation Brands, to Canopy, joining forces is seeming to be the way to go to help elevate cannabis brands on the large and small scale.

Cannabis businesses are pooling resources too.

Again, take the July 1 regulations changes in California as an example. Instead of folding under the new pressures of the State of California’s expectations, companies joined forces and pooled resources to make manufacturing and distribution possible under the new guidelines.

The point here is that you can’t expect to corner the market by doing it alone, especially with the increasing cost of real estate, licensing, and operations fees and the ever-changing regulations. For any cannabis business, there are likely hundreds of competitors. There is a quote that says “Competitors know your business best,”; when businesses remain open to collaboration, and a possible merger or acquisition, they double their force, success, and potential for profit. 

Do You Have What It Takes?

The cannabis industry isn’t for the weak of heart. What competencies do you possess that will ensure that you will succeed in this often-difficult industry?

Take a moment to research more competencies and do a Competency Inventory. Keep dedicated to developing your competencies, recognizing every experience gives you something to put into your professional toolbox.







Cannabis Needs More Black & Brown Professionals: Prioritize Your Diversity Programs


As we have stated before, cannabis is suffering a major diversity program where black people, immigrants, minorities, people with disabilities, and women are severely under-represented in cannabis.

Growing Talent seeks to change this by offering our Social Equity Incubator to black and brown professionals who are eager to grow their business, gain education, and contribute to a more diverse cannabis industry.

Our organization is all about social equity. We believe that all people within society have the same status, which includes civil rights, equal access, and equal opportunities. We believe cannabis should include the whole society, and be representative of the fabrics of backgrounds, races, religions, languages, and ethnicities that have woven together to become America.

Be the cannabis business who makes a dent in the statistics be taking on some of these proactive strategies for creating a diverse workforce:

Pay Attention to the Statistics

Cannabis is all about data, and providing the market with insightful reports on diversity and employment gaps. MJBizDaily releases a Women & Minorities report that shows a snapshot of current diversity within the industry. Also, paying attention to cannabis-related job board sites like Vangst will gain you access to up-to-date statistics that shows where you need to push further in your diversity strategy.

Vangst recently released a salary and jobs guide that indicated the tremendous amount of growth, to the tune of 690%, of jobs in the cannabis industry just between 2017 and 2018. What was the one area that Vangst identified needed improvement? Diversity, of course.

“Given the industry is so young, current businesses and influencers in the space have the opportunity to build the cannabis industry into the most inclusive industry in the world,” said Vangst CEO Karson Humiston to Green Market Report, “Cannabis businesses need to build diversity recruiting programs and prioritize building highly diverse companies from the start. While we are seeing many companies do this well, there is room for improvement.”

Reach Out to Community Groups

America is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with 16.9% of the population being Latino/Hispanic; 12.6% being black; 5.2% being Asian, and 2.3% being considered mixed ethnicity. 62% of the U.S. population are white.

Community groups serve to create sub communities that celebrate and honor ethnicity, culture, language, religion and background. These are the groups that you should be integrating with as a cannabis business. Quite often, you will find people who have incredible amounts of education and experience who have recently come to the U.S. who can’t find viable employment, but are eager to work.

Hold a job fair within a local community group to ensure that you’re making your opportunities equitable to all Americans, or visit one of their meetings to get to know people of different communities on a deeper level.

Search Local Volunteer Bases

In 2015, the Department of Labor did a survey to determine how many Americans are volunteering. The survey found that 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2014 and September 2015. While there is a slight decline in patterns in volunteering, volunteers offer a unique resource to cannabis businesses.

Volunteerism shows a dedication to community improvement and a value towards corporate social responsibility or the corporate citizenship piece that we highlighted in the “Competencies of Successful Cannabis Entrepreneurs” article. These are values that should be featured within every cannabis company, as well as the people within.

Volunteerism also shows dependability, reliability, and commitment towards something greater than one’s self.

Highlight Your Equity Programs

Positioning yourself as an equal opportunity employer not only ensures you’re reaching your obligations for diversity within your organization, but it also attracts the customer that appreciates diversity in their sales experience.

Having an equity program that is on display through your website, printed materials, or even in-store/office notifications attracts a diverse work force that in the end helps your customer. If a customer speaks Urdu, your employee from Pakistan can help them understand cannabis in their own language. If your store is in a largely Hispanic area, having Latinos as part of your workforce will increase the likelihood you’ll attract more people if they can speak their own language.

Create Equitable Structures

Being an equal opportunities employer goes way beyond a diversity statement on your website or ensuring your workforce looks diverse. Equal opportunity means equal pay for equal work, and not allowing your infrastructure to favor one type of person over another.

Paying above the industry standard will ensure that you’re attracting, and retaining, your employees, as will providing opportunities for advancement and mentorship.

Make sure your organization, and your employees, have a place at the table where larger issues within the cannabis industry are discussed, so that your diverse workforce can speak for all diverse workers to ensure the equity the industry deserves.

Model the Way

Finally, model the way for the cannabis industry. If you have had a diversity strategy that has proven effective, share that with other cannabis entrepreneurs and business owners.

Showcase what you are doing in industry publications, social media forums, and participate as a speaker at an industry conference. The industry needs more entrepreneurs and business owners who have done diversity well to model the way.

Make Diversity a Priority

Earlier this year, writer D.M. Blunted commented on how black people (and minorities) are treated within the cannabis space. “No one celebrates their struggle,” she told The Her(B) Life, “And now, as the landscape changes, few offer space for inclusion.”

Be the cannabis business that changes this.

Medical vs. Recreational Cannabis: What’s Your Niche?


Licensing is likely one of the most important things for a legal cannabis business in California. Acquiring the right licenses gives you the green light to operate manufacturing and retail cannabis businesses within state compliance requirements.

In California, there are 20 different types of cannabis licenses that can be issued, depending on activities, and which segment of the market a business operates within.

The most common licenses are retail licenses, and those are divided up into two classes A-Class for adult use (recreational), and M-Class for medicinal cannabis retail.

Activities such as cultivation, manufacturing, processing, testing, and distribution must also obtain the proper licensing to be able to operate within the regulations of the licenses, which are managed by The California Department of Food and Agriculture, The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, and The Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety.

Since California recently fully legalized cannabis in the state, business owners have had an important decision to make: stay with medicinal markets, work solely for adult-use purposes, or combine the two into one premise.

Finding Niche Markets

Cannabis businesses thrive on finding and serving niche markets. With high brand saturation, businesses are engaging in targeted marketing towards segmented parts of the cannabis industry.

Take Sue Taylor as an example. An African-American retired Catholic school principal, she is in the process of opening the first cannabis dispensary for seniors, offering medical cannabis as an alternative to strong prescription drugs. Taylor has identified a gap in both medical services and a target demographic that will help her succeed in her business.

Cannabis businesses today can’t just decide to throw a bunch of spaghetti against the wall hoping it sticks. They need to find a niche and acquire the proper licensing, that will ensure their success, with products and services that meet customer demand.

With a world of possibilities in cannabis retail, what is your niche? What are the underlying values of why you do business?

Will you decide to focus on the medical needs of Californians, or participate in the new recreational market, or perhaps both?

Here are a few considerations on discovering your cannabis market niche:

Read the Data

Data that is provided by POS systems and statistical analysts can give cannabis business owners a pretty good breakdown of who is buying cannabis, and where.

Localized data sets, that are downloadable and accessible from organizations like Headset and Baker Technologies can reveal demographic patterns based on a geographical section. For instance, perhaps your geographic area reveals that Gen X women are purchasing more cannabis in retail stores – there may be an interesting niche market for the modern women, mother and professional. Recent Headset data showed that more Baby Boomers are purchasing cannabis and that they like concentrates and vaping, showing a new, and unexpected niche of cannabis emerge.

Consider Your Intentions

What is your intention for being a manufacturer, distributor or retailer of cannabis? In his infamous book The Cannabis Manifesto, Steve DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Clinic argues that “cannabis has always been a medicine”, and that it should always be treated in regarded in that way. “Decades from now, historians will describe the current renaissance of cannabis medicine as the most important medical development since germ theory,” he writes, “Some of us think that’s a good thing”.

Choosing to dedicate your cannabis business to medical cannabis means that you want to make a change in health care. You want to see people using cannabis as an alternative to often-damaging prescription drugs. You want people to be able to see the affordability of cannabis in comparison to the pill bottle. You want to bring healing and a sense of hope to those who thought they had lost it.

In comparison, the recreational market was created for a reason. Adult use legalization normalizes cannabis consumption as part of the American experience: simply some prefer to toke on a joint at the end of a tough day rather than reach for the wine bottle or six-pack. Legal adult use or recreational cannabis strengthens the whole industry; through rigorous regulations, testing, distribution processes, and reporting, recreational cannabis is highly regulated and helps cannabis rise above its black market past.

Let’s go back to Steve DeAngelo and what he says about cannabis for intoxication (or recreational purposes): “[Cannabis] has a wide range of more unique benefits that are frequently overlooked, or mistakenly characterized as "getting high,” he writes, “These include its ability to extend patience and promote self examination; to awaken a sense of wonder and playfulness, and openness to spiritual experience; to enhance the flavor of a meal, the sound of music, or the sensitivity to a lover's touch; to open the mind and inspire creativity; to bring poetry to language and spontaneity to a performer; to catalyze laughter, facilitate friendship, and bridge human differences." This definition of adult use certainly elevates the meaning, and purpose of recreational cannabis.

Consider Both

Cannabis businesses that operate under an A-Class and an M-Class license can operate within the same premise. This means that you may not have to make the distinction between medical and recreational cannabis at all.

Despite this, choosing to offer both medical and recreational cannabis puts the entrepreneur in the position of having to continue to support the medical needs of their customers while recognizing that people are truly into cannabis for the recreational aspect of it. Store design, cannabis education programs, and budtender training remain at key importance when serving people with both medical and adult use interests and needs.

Choose Your Adventure

Deciding on whether to go the medical or recreational niche and even segment into a smaller niche could make or break a cannabis business. No matter which way you go, always be reminded that licensing is a lengthy, and expensive process. When applying for a license, be 100% clear with your intentions for your business, and your niche market segment to increase your chances that you will be awarded your cannabis license.

Social Equity Incubator: Why Do We Need It?


Respect for Diversity

There is a huge diversity gap growing within the cannabis industry. MJBizDaily recently reported that women and minorities are a small make-up of cannabis businesses, where 75% of leadership roles are held by men. The number of women in executive positions, in cannabis-based businesses, has fallen 9% between 2015 and 2017.

Growing Talent recently published “Competencies of the Successful Cannabis Entrepreneur”, where we stated that only 1% of America’s dispensaries are black owned and 80% of individuals with a stake in the cannabis industry are white. Only 19% of cannabis-based businesses are owned by a person of minority

Because of social equity programs, this number is growing.

Cannabis entrepreneurs owe the cannabis industry a fresh start. Instead of “whitewashing” the industry, business owners should seek to diversify their workforce, and build equitable cannabis structures.

What is Social Equity?

Social equality is a state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in certain respects, including civil rightsfreedom of speechproperty rights and equal access to certain social goods and services, such as cannabis. It also includes equal opportunities and obligations, and so involves the whole of society.

Social equality requires the absence of legally enforced social class or caste boundaries and the absence of discrimination motivated by an inalienable part of a person's identity. For example, sex, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, origin, caste or class, income or property, language, religion, convictions, opinions, health or disability must absolutely not result in unequal treatment under the law and should not reduce opportunities unjustifiably.

"Equal opportunities" is interpreted as being judged by ability, which is compatible with a free-market economy. Relevant problems are horizontal inequality − the inequality of two persons of same origin and ability and differing opportunities given to individuals − such as in (education) or by inherited capital. Therefore, someone who grew up targeted by the “war on drugs” should have equal opportunities, in the cannabis industry, to someone who was raised in a white, middle class family.

Who Qualifies for Social Equity?

Social Equity aims to level the playing field within the cannabis industry. Persons who qualify for social equity programs typically fall within one of three categories: those persons targeted by the “war on drugs”, persons from ethnically diverse communities, and persons who live below the poverty line.


What is a Social Equity Incubator?

The main purpose of an incubator, like the program at Growing Talent, is to help start-ups to grow. They are collaborative programs which help people solve problems associated with launching a start-up by providing a space to work, seed funding, mentoring, training and other benefits.

A Social Equity Incubator is a business model used within the cannabis industry, which has three tiers. Tier 3 businesses “incubate” tier 1 and 2 businesses. Tier 3 businesses seek easier access to cannabis licensing if they agree to be an incubator, which includes providing rent-free space or technical business assistance to tier 1 and 2 businesses.

Tier 3 businesses also agree to enforce certain equity standards within tier 1 and 2 businesses, with some laws mandating that 50% of employees qualify for social equity programs. This allows for a diverse workforce and a more level playing field within the cannabis industry.

Tier 3 businesses agree to be an “incubator” for a period of time, and both the incubator and incubatee must sign appropriate documentation, including leases and business agreements. This allows business owners who may not have start-up money or resources to enter the cannabis industry with a “grace period”. In essence, it levels the playing field for all individuals seeking to work in the cannabis industry.

Incubators make money when the start-ups they take an equity stake in get big and successful. The best exits for an incubator come when one of their start-ups is acquired. The path to getting acquired path is shorter than the path to going public which would also allow the incubator to divest of their investment.


Why the Cannabis Industry Needs the Incubator Model

The cannabis industry is intense, it’s sink or swim. Small start-up companies are facing growing challenges and regulations to entering the market. The Social Equity Incubator Model reduces some of these challenges through diverse hiring, rent-free business space and technical assistance for the “little guy”, providing guidance as they enter a fast-growing market.

Both start-up companies and the incubator company benefit from this model. It allows bigger companies to invest within their industry, while profiting as start-up companies become successful. The incubator model also promotes diverse hiring and opportunities for persons who qualify for social equity programs.

Hopefully, as the use of this business model grows within the cannabis industry, our dispensaries will better represent the intricate and diverse social tapestry that is America.


Tips for Black Entrepreneurs Looking to Purchase or Lease Cannabis Real Estate

Tips for Black Entrepreneurs Looking to Purchase or Lease Cannabis Real Estate

Purchasing or leasing a space is a challenging process for any entrepreneur in cannabis. Zoning, ensuring space is away from children and public spaces, and making sure the location is sustainable for business are just a few of the considerations for cannabis entrepreneurs. A few layers are added for black entrepreneurs.

Los Angeles Social Equity Phase 2 Begins

According to the Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR), "The City of Los Angeles has adopted a Social Equity Program aimed promoting 'equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry in order to decrease disparities in life outcomes for marginalized communities and to address the disproportionate impacts of the war on drugs in those communities.'"

Below you will find a recording of a workshop featuring The Department of Cannabis Regulation's (DCR) Executive Director, Cat Packer, explaining the program and diving more into what Phase II is all about.

Some key takeaways are the following:

  • Phase 2 will only focus on NON-RETAIL supply chain license applicants (i.e. cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, testing, retail, microbusiness)

  • Property will not be required for applicants to be verified

  • Proof of activity prior to January 2016

  • Proof of product activity with an existing medial marijuana dispensary (EEMD)

  • Must qualify as a Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3 applicant

More information about eligibility requirements may be found here.

There are 3 tiers in which applicants may apply:

  • Tier 1

    • Either low income AND California cannabis conviction or;

    • Low income AND minimum of 5 years cumulative residency in a disproportionately impacted area

    • Ownership requirement of NO LESS than 51%

  • Tier 2

    • Either low income AND AND a minimum of 5 years cumulative residency in a disproportionately impacted area or;

    • Minimum of 10 years cumulative residency in a disproportionately impacted area

    • Ownership requirement of NO LESS than 33.33%

  • Tier 3

    • Social Equity Agreement

    • Ownership requirement is NONE

For more on the City's Social Equity Program, watch the video above and refer the presentation deck for details.

4 Cities to Participate in Social Equity Programs

Social Equity has been the talk of the town around major cities in California and now Massachusetts. In fact, Massachusetts is the first to offer a statewide program. That means there are some prime cities to that you may live in to participate and be a part of history. Here are four major cities that currently offer Social Equity Programs.


Boston Skyline

Boston is the largest city in the State of Massachusetts and most likely will play the biggest role in the statewide equity program. The Cannabis Control Commission has a detailed outline of the program and expectations of its participants. You can read more here.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles Hollywood sign

The City of Angels recently opened up Phase II of its licensing round with a focus on Social Equity applicants. This round is dedicated to non-retail licenses but some pretty strict requirements must be met first. The Department of Cannabis Regulation will be giving out licenses on a 1:1 ratio meaning Social Equity applicants will be recipients of at least 50% of them. When retail licenses roll out in Phase III, that ratio will increase to 2:1.



The Town has been pioneering Social Equity efforts with applicants already having received licenses. The Hood Incubator has been leading this initiative helping thousands of black and brown people get into the cannabis industry.

San Francisco

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

Just across the bridge from Oakland, The City has started to ramp up its Social Equity efforts to help more people of color get into cannabis.

All of the above cities allow for incubators like ours to help applicants progress in areas such as licensing, compliance, property procurement, supply chain management, and more.