Despite federal prohibition, the cannabis industry is expected to generate over $24 billion by 2021. If history repeats itself, that may be an underestimation as each prediction thus far has been dwarfed by reality. The industry is comprised of two large segments: plant touching businesses and ancillary businesses. Plant touching businesses include those that directly access the cannabis plants and its derivatives. All plant-touching operations must apply for a license, but licensing requirements vary by state, as do industry job titles. Retail stores, product manufacturers, cultivation facilities, and testing laboratories make up that foundational segment. Each of these industry tracts is supported by an array of ancillary businesses—businesses that don’t directly touch the plant but support the ones that do.

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This is where the industry begins. The short of it is this: cannabis cultivators are farmers. Whether the facility is outdoors or indoors, the endgame is the same. Grow quality weed. Cultivators have to be exceptionally knowledgeable about cannabis’ growth cycle and each strain’s preferred growing conditions. Predators like pests, disease, and the federal government are always threats that these professionals have to be prepared to deal with. Unexpected threats can also emerge, making this one of the riskiest areas of the industry to enter. For example, in October 2017, California experienced intense wildfires that hit cultivation sites hard. Many growers lost everything, including their savings. The silver lining is where this began. As long as there is a demand for legal cannabis, there will be a critical need for growers to provide the crop the entire industry centers.

Product Manufacturer/Processor 

Cannabis starts as a seed, and it can end as a flower, chocolate bar, tincture, lotion or any processed substance that can be infused with the plant’s derivatives. Businesses that make cannabis extractions and infuse them into various products are considered product manufacturers or processors. The potential for growth in this business sector is enormous. From candles to lip gloss, the range of items that can be imbued with cannabis is limited only by the creativity of the human mind.

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These businesses are operated by extraction technicians or, as some prefer to be called, artists. These professionals are kind of like chemists who know how to isolate the chemical compounds housed in the cannabis plant without compromising their therapeutic efficacy (or compromising it much). Research is a big part of this industry area. There is a paucity of information out there on the way that cannabis interacts with other natural and/or synthesized material, and how the synergy of those interactions can promote wellness.


This sector is comprised of businesses that specialize in transporting cannabis. In most states, the only type of distribution businesses that are technically legal are those that transport cannabis directly from the cultivation site to the dispensary or laboratory. In most cases, delivery services that transport cannabis from dispensaries to customers are operating illegally. Those services also put their employees at risk. The lack of banking support for cannabis touching businesses means that distributors are carrying large amounts of cash and weed in their vehicles. Illegal delivery services aren’t usually prepared sufficiently to handle car theft or burglary. Legal operations, on the other hand, are typically outsourced to security agencies that specialize in transporting vulnerable assets.

Lab Testing 

When it comes to legitimizing an industry plagued by stigma, the importance of lab testing cannot be understated. Lab results break down cannabinoid levels and terpene profiles, information that empowers patients to choose strains that can best medicate their specific conditions. Tests also reveal dangerous levels of pesticides or the presence of microbial life or mold and mildew. In today’s age of testing, it’s hard to imagine consuming the label-less product that makes up black market weed.

Retail Stores

Dispensaries are the consumer facing part of the cannabis industryThe consumer-facing part of the industry, cannabis stores (often called dispensaries) are where patients or recreational users can go to purchase the product. Most stores include several types of inventory. Customers can expect to find edibles, dried flower, joints, concentrate, and merchandise. Personnel-wise, dispensaries are staffed by store managers, budtenders, and security. Dispensary managers are a lot like all other types of managers. They recruit and lead their staff and tend to administrative duties. Budtenders are passionate about cannabis and guide customers toward the products that will meet their precise needs. Typically, security is outsourced from a business specializing in security services. The dangers of running a cannabis operation have resulted in the emergence of cannabis-specific security agencies.

Ancillary Businesses

Security, banking, insurance, marketing, packaging—these are only a fraction of business areas that the cannabis industry relies on to thrive. Working in an ancillary business comes without the risk of a federal takedown since these professions are hands-off the plant. They also open the industry up to almost any hard-working, talented employee. Name a service, and there is probably a place for it in the burgeoning cannabis industry.

Cannabis Grows the Economy

The many branches of the cannabis industry present professionals of all forms with multiple avenues through which they can enter. The sustainable-minded green thumb can start a cannabis cultivation business. The visionary can imbue that cultivation brand with messaging that sells its pursuit of quality and ethics while simultaneously redefining the industry as a whole. The scientist can test that business’ crops to keep it accountable to the highest health standards. The researcher can work with that scientist to further investigate the medicinal applications of a powerful but natural medication. The teacher can start a non-profit meant to educate chronic pain patients about the benefits of choosing cannabis over opioids. The tech savvy can launch a website that help cannabis consumers easily locate their medicine. The activist can work with governments to make a pathway into the legal industry more accessible for ex-convicts, people of color, and women. The possibilities the cannabis industry presents a world full of people looking for meaningful and fulfilling work are endless. Far more than protecting Americans, federal prohibition is an archaic constraint that lowers the ceiling on what could be limitless.