Whatever way you look at it, the U.S. cannabis industry is booming, and so is its employment outlook: A 2022 jobs report from Leafly shows the creation of more than 100,000 cannabis jobs in 2021, a 33 percent increase over previous years.
And in an industry that last year expanded for the fifth year in a row, cannabis job growth was a stunning 27 percent, versus the 8 percent job growth the government projected across the board for all industries for the next decade.
In all, cannabis now supports more than 428,000 jobs, Leafly reports. That leaves the question of who will fill those positions and the additional jobs to follow. Sure, high school grads can take lower-wage jobs in dispensaries and cultivation outlets, But where the industry really needs new blood is higher up the ladder, in technology and especially in ideas, says Anthony Dutcher, chief marketing officer for Veriheal, a cannabis healthcare tech company.
That’s why Denver-based Veriheal – which facilitates marijuana cards for medical consumers – is increasing its college scholarship program (for 2022-2023) for the third year in a row. The program’s overall total will be $25,000, up from last year’s $20,000. Ten college-bound high school seniors (or already-enrolled undergraduate and graduate students) eyeing cannabis careers may vie for $5,000 apiece.
The application is a 1,000-word essay – deadline, July 30 – that presents an innovative idea for the industry, Dutcher said in a recent interview. “Give us your wildest ideas,” the CMO said, inviting young applicants. “And we’re not stringent on format. We want to see the passion; we want to see that you invested the time to really think this through.
“Can you give us something new or take something that exists and twist it a little?” added Dutcher, describing the ideal essay.
Veriheal is not alone in extending a helping hand to future cannabis execs and entrepreneurs. Cannabis certification programs (with paid tuition) have been reported at multiple accredited colleges and universities, such as Syracuse University, Northern Michigan University, Stockton University and the University of Rhode Island, among others. Federal student aid for these programs is generally available – and legal – because students do not handle the marijuana plant – which remains technically illegal at the federal level.
Information on these programs? For scholarship seekers, business schools and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators are good places to start.
In the scholarship arena specifically, Happy Valley dispensaries in 2021 offered students $2,500 college scholarships for that academic year. Applicants were asked to write essays exploring the impact of historical criminalization on minority communities.
In 2018, the companies CanalInsider and MedRelief were also listed as offering scholarships, while the Oakland, California, cannabis education program Oaksterdam University (which calls itself the world’s first cannabis college) advertised a $25,000 grant to one lucky student.
From Veriheal, meanwhile, Dutcher describes an enterprising past scholarship winner whose application detailed a sophisticated cannabis vending machine – complete with technical details. Social justice and agriculture have been the focus of other essays – 125 of which were submitted to Veriheal last year. “It’s refreshing to get a widespread [array] of different ideas,” Dutcher says. “It pushes us to be more proactive, to get that young gung-ho spirit.”
Applicants need not be planning to go into cannabis directly, Dutcher says, but they might consider ancillary businesses that cater to the cannabis industry: finance, law, marketing, tech. And should an applicant suggest a truly remarkable idea, the CMO said, Veriheal just might pay for it; indeed, a future “elevator pitch” event is another possibility.
For now, the emphasis is on getting the word out about the scholarships and cannabis opportunities overall. “Dispensaries — boots on the ground – have a lot more opportunities [for] local allegiance than a tech company in 30 states has,” Dutcher said of the competition for recruitment among cannabis companies like his. “We have to hone in on specific opportunities.” Towards that goal, Veriheal has partnered with student-led organizations and with Cannaclub, the executive said.
The reason is that for students looking to cannabis as a career, the industry offers a bright job outlook, the executive said, describing their opportunities as “solid.”