Shaleen Title is the co-founder of THC Staffing Group, where she and co-founder Danielle Schumacher connect cannabis companies with high-quality job candidates who represent a diverse cross section of America. Four years ago, she helped legalize cannabis in Colorado as an organizer for Amendment 64. Now based in Boston, Title works with legalization campaigns in other states to include language that creates opportunities for diverse communities and people of color. Leafly spoke with her recently about the challenges of those initiatives and the opportunities for cannabis companies to expand diversity within their own ranks.
Leafly: What specific steps are you taking to address diversity issues in the next round of state legalization measures?
Shaleen Title: The drafting committee here in Massachusetts, which wrote the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’s initiative, was deeply committed to an inclusive industry. We specifically stated that no one could be disqualified from employment in the marijuana industry or from applying for a business license because of a past marijuana offense unless it involved distribution to a minor. We also set the application and license fees at a far more accessible level. The application fee for Massachusetts’ existing medical marijuana program is $31,500. The fee for an adult use marijuana license would be $3,000.
We also wrote in support for communities disproportionately harmed by the drug war, namely black communities. Under the new law, the regulating agency that runs the retail marijuana program in Massachusetts will be required to adopt policies to encourage people from those communities to participate in the industry, and positively impact those communities.
I’ve been working with organizers of an initiative in another state on similar language, but we’re not ready to make that public yet.
What do you think those policies will look like?
Personally, I want to see business education programs, skills-based training and job-placement programs. But the most important input will come from the people in the affected communities. I’m currently working on a forum to raise awareness about these provisions. We want to collect feedback on what helpful programs might look like.
New policies are a good start, but they’re just the beginning. We need a community-wide effort to hold regulatory agencies accountable for implementing these policies as they’re designed, a culture change in the marijuana policy reform movement, and participation by businesses as well.
Turning to the industry side of the equation: How do you talk with company officials about the value diversity brings to their operation?
My thinking on this has evolved. Previously, I used to talk about the benefits of diversity that apply to all industries. It’s well-documented that a diverse workforce drives economic growth. And as you would expect, hiring people with different backgrounds can help a company effectively market to broader groups of people and increase market share. This is all true for the marijuana industry as well.
But more recently I’ve focused on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have to build an industry from the ground up that focuses on equality and accessibility.
The hiring choices we make now will determine which people are gaining experience in the fastest-growing industry in the country.
Think about what this industry could look like ten years from now. Think about who the most experienced and top-level people in the cannabis industry will be. We have the opportunity right now to make that an inclusive group. And that will have a major impact, not just on this industry but on American society.
How do hiring managers expand their pool of candidates beyond their own professional and social networks?
I wish I had a shortcut. I don’t. It takes years of outreach and relationship-building to create your network, and it can be difficult to reach people beyond that network.
But there are places to start. In addition to our company, THC Staffing Group, there are some new organizations to help companies connect with that deeper pool of candidates, including the Minority Cannabis Business Association, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s DARE (Diversity Awareness Reflection and Education) program, the National Cannabis Industry Association Minority Council, and Supernova Women.
For job candidates, are there nontraditional skills that have proven to be valuable in the cannabis industry?
One of the unique demands of our industry is the need to adapt quickly to unpredictable change. Particularly for organizations that “touch the plant,” it’s crucial that members of their team are able to keep it together when big changes hit.
We see this all the time in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. New regulations or zoning rules force companies to adapt, sometimes radically, on the fly. Some edibles companies have had entire product lines banned by a tiny regulatory tweak. Packaging rules and potency limits can change without warning. Look at California; it’s now adapting to the state’s new medical marijuana regulations.
Anyone can say they’re flexible. The time to demonstrate that skill is during an interview, when you can tell stories that illustrate how well you handled a big unexpected change. That might be the tiebreaker that gives you a leg up on other qualified candidates.
If you’re looking to break into the industry, what’s the best way to meet prospective employers and make yourself known?
I tell people to take advantage of the inherent human need for validation and appreciation. If you admire someone in a company you want to work for, tell them so. It’s got to be done in complete sincerity, of course. You need to research people and companies; you can’t just use it as a line on everyone you meet. And when you do meet that person, ask for their advice about what path and preparation they’d recommend for someone seeking a similar position.
Before you have that conversation, think about the specific role you’re seeking and what makes you a good candidate for it.
Saying “I’ll do anything to get a foot in the door” is neither memorable nor helpful.
Saying “I have an accounting background and want to develop expertise to advise cannabis businesses,” or “I’m a retail manager and want to work my way up to managing a dispensary” — those are conversation starters.
The best times to approach people are usually at conferences, networking events, or on Twitter if they’re active. Don’t expect quick results. The person is likely being approached by dozens of other people with the same request. But if you ask for advice from multiple people, follow up to let them know you acted on their advice, and are appreciative of their time; eventually someone is going to think of you when it comes time to hire.
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