“We’ve placed people in a wide range of positions, from sales and marketing to quality assurance, compliance and cultivation.”Alison McMahon, founder of Cannabis at Work
When Justin Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party in 2013, McMahon was forging a career as a human resources specialist. When he launched his campaign to become prime minister promising to legalize recreational marijuana, McMahon was running her own consulting business and was focused on healthcare, hospitality, energy, and other traditional areas of employment.
But as the general election drew near, there was a growing buzz about cannabis in the country and McMahon took notice. “I could see the opportunity was coming and I wanted to find a way to get involved in the industry,” she told Leafly. She educated herself about cannabis and the regulations governing impairment in the workplace and started producing content for fellow HR specialists.
She launched her agency Cannabis at Work in the fall of 2015 and for the next year and a half, she educated employers about cannabis in the workplace, and helped them develop strategies to accommodate employees who had been prescribed cannabis to treat various medical conditions.
Not all of the people she places in the industry have a background in cannabis. They simply have transferable skills.
Last spring, Cannabis at Work expanded to include a staffing division. “It had always been in the back of my mind. The timing was right due to the early maturity of Canadian market. Also, at that point, we had firm dates around legalization,” says McMahon, referring to the Trudeau government’s announcement that it would pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana in July 2018.
This service has received “a warm reception” by employers in the cannabis space, McMahon says, and demand is growing along with the industry. “We’ve placed people in a wide range of positions, from sales and marketing to quality assurance, compliance and cultivation. Licensed producers need to fill these positions in order to operate,” she added.
McMahon, a former president of a local chapter of Canexions, an international group dedicated to boosting female involvement in the cannabis business, recently placed an assistant master grower with a licensed producer based in British Columbia. The individual had produced cannabis under the government’s Marihuana Medical Access Regulations—which enabled authorized individuals to produce their own cannabis plants for medical purposes from 2001 to 2013—and had taken cannabis courses at polytechnic university.
But not all of the people she places in the industry have a background in cannabis. They simply have transferable skills. “To place someone in a cannabis cultivation position we might look at an individual with a background in horticulture,” she said. “Someone with a background in pharmaceuticals might be a good fit for a quality assurance position in the cannabis industry.”
In the future, these individuals might be able to get cannabis training before they start their new positions in the industry—McMahon is now developing plans to provide online training courses for potential candidates.
“Cannabis at Work started with just me but now has a core group of people,” she said. “The business started with one office, in Edmonton, but now has satellite offices in Toronto and Vancouver.”
The phone won’t stop ringing—in any of those offices—anytime soon. McMahon believes there could be an additional 50,000 cannabis-related jobs in Canada within two years of legalization—and that might be a conservative estimate.
“There is so much momentum in this industry,” she says, “it’s hard to predict how big it will get.”