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After 20 years as an industry advocate and entrepreneur, I can confidently say that, contrary to popular belief, the laws regulating the cannabis industry are not its biggest challenge. The ability to build and lead a team that will ultimately determine your success is the biggest challenge, and if you aren’t already experiencing this, you’ll likely find that it’s way harder than you might envision.

It sounds easy and fun: Hire a group of interesting people for a dream job. Heck, your own friends and family are probably eager to help. These connections are surely trustworthy and talented, but without a complete review of the company’s needs, it’s impossible to ensure they have the desired skills.

Before making any hiring decisions, resist moving too fast. The best hiring processes start with forethought, and putting together a winning team is a pass/fail endeavor. Put together a stellar team, and the company can reach its goals. Hire unsuitable workers, and the marketplace will soon notice, and you will likely lose loyal customers.

Your job is to create a step-by-step plan for hiring, training and terminating employees. It’s a holistic system, so design the entire process start to finish before implementing it.

The first step is a weighty evaluation of the company’s purpose. Determine what will be accomplished, how to achieve it and which tasks need to be managed. Group these tasks into job descriptions and dedicate time to understanding the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for each.

Next, create an organizational chart, or “org chart” for short. This is a graphic presentation of your company’s structure, showing each job title and how the workforce supervision flows. A properly constructed org chart will help with:

1. Communication and Chain of Command: Each employee will know to whom to report problems, ensuring vital information is delivered to the appropriate parties. It will also ensure that each employee knows to whom he or she reports, helping to alleviate power struggles.

2. Efficiency: The org chart will list certain job responsibilities, allowing employees to be pro-active in their daily tasks and eliminating the need for them to wait for instruction.

3. Planning for the Future: For employees looking to be promoted within an organization, an org chart can show them the path forward and make them aware of the skills and behaviors needed to obtain future positions.

When constructing your org chart, start at the top with the Board of Directors and officers. Add the supervisors below them, and place the general staff positions below their team leaders.

A dispensary organizational chart might contain these positions:

  • Board of Directors: Sets corporate goals, elects officers and provides mentorship to the staff. Shareholders may elect the board, or the founders may appoint it.
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO): Establishes and supervises the company procedures and policies, and responsible for reaching the goals set by the directors.
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): Supervises the company’s finances, including creating budgets, managing financial reports and overseeing purchasing and inventory.
  • Inventory Manager: Manages purchasing and directly manages the inventory control system.
  • General Manager (GM): Supervises and manages the company’s daily operations.
  • Assistant General Manager: Assists the General Manager with daily operations.
  • Direction of Clinical Services: Manages member and community services.
  • Receptionists: Assure that only properly credentialed people enter the cannabis facility.
  • Dispensary Service Clerks (often called budtenders): Assist patients/customers in understanding the active effects of marijuana and in choosing the best products.
  • Packaging Staff: Assures that each product is properly packaged and labeled for sale.
  • Shift Supervisors: Manage staff assigned to specific operations and procedures.
  • Bookkeeper: Coordinates data entry and supervises financial and inventory reconciliations.
  • Office Administrator: Manages payroll and benefits, pays bills, and assists the CEO, CFO and GM.

Most dispensaries outsource critical jobs to part-time, highly skilled individuals. Consider using professional service providers for these positions:

  • Legal: Retain an attorney with cannabis industry experience to advise your company.
  • Accounting: Find an accountant familiar with IRS 280E taxation.
  • Marketing: Save money by using an experienced marketing firm with industry connections versus hiring full-time staff. An outside firm can design graphics, manage social media, design websites and manage advertising, all billed hourly or bundled into a contract, often for far less than the cost of hiring people with these skill sets.
  • Human Resources: Engage a knowledgeable expert to advise your company on the ever-changing employment laws.
  • Security: Either hire a local company to manage security for your dispensary or get a license to employ your own private security officers.

Compliance is a big issue at any marijuana business, and each staff position has a role to play in that. Most companies can’t afford, and don’t need, a full-time compliance officer, so the CEO takes the lead. She creates a standard operating procedure (SOP) for each regulation, detailing each process and the staff’s role within that process. Larger companies hire chief operating officers to implement these SOPs, who support all supervisors and staff, assuring they are outfitted and trained to meet the rules. In smaller businesses, the general manager fills this compliance role. It’s not easy to follow the regulations, so create a culture of compliance from the start.

The best hiring processes start with forethought, and putting together a winning team is a pass/fail endeavor. Put together a stellar team, and the company can reach its goals.

Job Descriptions and Hiring

It’s essential to write a job description for each job position, including for the board members, security officers and everyone in between. Doing so will help determine what function each position will fulfill, detailing the exact skills, knowledge and abilities required. This exercise will help you envision the company’s operations and how the workload flows from one staff member to another. Don’t rush this task; take your time to imagine the business in action and then consider what staff positions will be needed.

From there, it’s simple to create a job posting from a job description. Post these openings to outlets where qualified industry professionals will see them. The company’s social media handles and website are the best places to post, so start building some local following months before opening.

My own dispensary, Magnolia Wellness of Oakland, uses job applications, not resumes, to hire. It’s easy to compare applicants side-by-side this way. Our hiring team reviews each application, grading it A, B or C. “A” candidates get a phone interview, using a set list of questions. Those who score an “A” on the phone interview receive an in-person interview, where we look for people who are a good fit for the team.

“B” candidates are called if no one in the first round gets through the phone and in-person interviews nor takes the job. There are still gems in this pile, so don’t disregard people who get a lower rating. Keep all of your hiring documents on file, even “Cs,” as if required by law. Check with your Human Resources advisor to find out your local and state regulations about document storage requirements.

Supervising a staff is challenging, but it is easier with a step-by-step hiring plan. The intent is to employ a staff with the skills, knowledge and abilities to meet the company’s goals. At Magnolia, the mission is simple: “To have the best cannabis, served by the nicest people,” and our hiring process assures it happens.