If you’ve had enough of your nine-to-five’s wearying toil, perhaps a change of vocation is in order. The Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver can recommend an intriguing alternative: selling pot.
The shady-looking fellow on the corner will tell you that you hardly need a college diploma to sell weed for a living. But Kwantlen’s new 14-week online course will sculpt aspiring dealers into professionals in a robust – and newly legal – field.
The course promises to be a rigorous survey of the landscape of marijuana production and sale, educating prospective growers in everything from irrigation to marketing.
So what exactly makes for a good professional manager of marijuana for medical purposes?
I spoke with Tegan Adams, the programme’s developer and primary instructor, to get a clearer idea of what those eager for education in the discipline can expect.
Don’t rely on past experience: There were, of course, “various growers doing it long before it was legal” but even pot veterans find their expertise distinctly lacking. “People have done the best they can given the resources,” Adams says – but growing marijuana for personal use or illegal sale isn’t the same as running a professional operation. “I’ve noticed that there is a pretty big labor shortage in the marijuana industry,” says Adams. “That’s one of the major problems we’re facing right now: there’s no training anyone can take.”
She continues: “A lot of people have been growing for 20 years. That’s great. Chances are they are very knowledgeable about growing the plant. But when it comes to regulations, financials and everything to do with exchange, they have no idea how that part works.”
That’s where Adams and the programme come in. “Having a standardized education system is going to be important to the licensed producers and anyone doing it legally going forward.”
Get to know the logistics: Growing and selling marijuana the proper way is rather more difficult than simply popping a plant under a black light in your closet. Doing it right means planning to grow on a large scale – and planning to deal with large-scale problems.
“As with any agricultural crop,” Adams says, “there are going to be ongoing issues with pest management that you need to look at.” Energy consumption, too, poses challenges few people consider. “Indoor facilities especially have huge electrical bills,” Adams points out. “For a four- to five-thousand square foot place you’re looking at around $30,000 a month. That’s a lot. That’s $360,000 a year for the lights in just a small facility.”
Preparing for such eventualities is a key part of any business plan. “If you were going to grow any crop, you would sit down and make your production plan. You would look at how much money you would spend on different input, and also look at how your production and labour are going to work within regulations.” Of particular importance is the MMPR – the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which govern the production of pot for legal use and sale in Canada.
Then there are “environmental monitoring and sanitation issues” unique to the growing of weed. “I think the main challenge,” Adams concludes, “is that marijuana is an agricultural or horticultural crop but it’s being regulated from a pharmaceutical perspective. One of the major challenges is joining the agricultural and pharmaceutical ways of doing things.”
“A lot of people are buying marijuana,” Adams says. “There’s no doubt about that.” But does that mean the would-be marijuana seller has a built-in clientele? Not necessarily. “It’s going to be quite competitive,” she warns. “There are conglomerates who have already joined. There’s some big money involved. And I think you’re going to see a lot of it move more in that direction.”
The solution? “We need to focus on consumer satisfaction. How do you get your messaging out to your patients? How do you retain them, make them happy, answer their questions? How do you get their loyalty?” Answering those questions, Adams says, is “how you’re going to stay in business in the end”.
One advantage the educated and licensed pot purveyor has over his illegal competitors is consistency. “With legal products you know exactly what you’re getting,” Adams says. “There are pesticide tests to make sure there are no residues on the plants. If you get it from an illegal supplier, those guys aren’t allowed to test their products. You have no idea what they’re putting on their plants. You don’t know how they’re handling it. If you get it from a licensed producer, you know that it’s clean and a lot safer.”
Build a boutique brand: With so much money in the marijuana game, it may be difficult for the independent supplier to stand out – unless independence is seized upon as a virtue.
“The main thing that’s important is to make a boutique brand rather than a mainstream one,” Adams says. “As long as that mom and pop store is able to market to its local consumers, it will stay in business. And people in its area may even buy more than they would from, say, Advil because they know them and trust them and like their brand.”
But in the end, it comes down to loyalty and marketing: “With beer and wine the marketing and branding is important but the flavours really contrast. Marijuana strains vary, but in terms of actual flavouring there may be less variation. So it has to do with branding.”
If you’ve got a good product, you’ve got to get it into your customer’s hands and have them come back.
Be a well-rounded grower and seller: “I’ve done a lot of consulting work,” Adams says, “and one of the main issues that I see, especially in startups, is that there’s a knowledge gap between the marketing guys and the people on the ground. The people who work in the facility really need to be able to communicate with the patients and marketing side of things, and vice versa. It’s important that both sides understand each other.”
For the prospective grower that means knowing both the production side of the industry as well as the sales: you’ve got to be as good at producing pot as getting someone else to pay for it and smoke it.
For Adams, it’s about a union of personal assets. “You need to be someone who is able to balance technical abilities and social and communications skills,” she says. “Maybe understand numbers and look at finance and know what they need, but can you then go and talk to an upset customer and know what they need, too. That’s the key. Having both skills is necessary.”