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Inspiring Top Talent Into The Legal Cannabis Industry

Editor’s Note: Jessica Riley oversees operations at UpToke. Her previous work includes extensive experience in marketing and operations strategy for technology and social business start-ups. Further, she has direct experience with all stages of cannabis production, distribution, and sale.

A few weeks ago I penned an article about the role of women in the cannabis industry. In the article, I made note about how I see the cannabis industry akin to any other industry in America today albeit with a much stronger growth trend and rife with vast opportunities for bold young entrepreneurs of all genders. Today I’m writing about inspiring top talent into the cannabis industry.

“Normalizing cannabis culture goes hand in hand with decriminalizing cannabis itself and is, in my opinion, the most important way to bring top talent to the table.”

First and foremost, I want to underscore the idea of thinking about the cannabis industry in the same terms as other sectors of American business. Normalizing cannabis culture goes hand in hand with decriminalizing cannabis itself and is, in my opinion, the most important way to bring top talent to the table.

Normalizing the cannabis industry does not mean trading away the history, or the meaningful story lines that have underpinned the culture for the last century. It means understanding and addressing the hesitations individuals have regarding cannabis use due to social stigmas and judgments. These false cultural narratives have developed as a result of generations of uninformed fear based reactionary teaching. They are deeply ingrained and hard to overcome.

As hiring managers, we need to encourage and demonstrate open communicative discussions based on science and direct experience. If we can create an approachable space for people to be curious and ask questions, without debate or defensive posturing, we can support them in seeing cannabis from a new perspective and hopefully in the process open up new possibilities for their own career paths.

Inspire VS. Recruit

In discussing the structure of this article with friends I realized that the motivations top performers will have for stepping into this industry will most likely be personally compelling, not profit driven. The idea of recruiting or wooing them into the industry will not be nearly as effective as inspiring them to make the switch on their own by offering them substantive work that fits in with their value systems.

In Silicon Valley, huge corporations like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Oracle are constantly recruiting. These giant megaliths offer generous compensation and benefit packages and all sorts of perks like shuttle buses to work with Wi-Fi, free lunches, lavish office parties, and of course the cachet of adding a name like “Google” to your resume. But there are downsides to accepting many of these positions. Those downsides are opportunities to capitalize on for smart businesses in the cannabis space.

The cannabis industry is not going to be able to compete by offering more enticing benefits, or more money in the short term, but those things aren’t always the most appealing for a young, highly skilled worker. I believe talented individuals will respond to more qualitative and meaningful perks that the big guys just can’t offer.

A lot of the inspiration for this piece came from previous learning about personal motivation via Dan Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I highly recommend it. You can watch an excellent animation about its main principles in this video by RSA Animate.


Working in the cannabis industry offers workers a tremendous sense of meaning. Everyday I go to work I know that the device UpToke is designing is going to provide more people greater access to the medicine that improves their quality of life. I am promoting harm reduction and personal freedom through technology. That feels pretty great.

I’m not just creating a digital widget for wealthy people to consume and throw away. I’m not refining someone else’s work on a product that is in its fourth version. I’m not making as much money as I would be if I were locked down in cubicle world. I have less job security and more unexpected chaotic workdays.

But, I regularly get to meet individuals whose stories move me. They fill me with gratitude and a sense of purpose. I know what I am working toward and why. That is a trade-off I am absolutely willing to make and so are thousands of young professionals feeling dispirited by the lack of soul in the old guard of cubicle nation.


For businesspeople willing to jump in now, the amount of impact they will have on a final product, or a brand image, or the set of regulations in their hometown far outweighs the fingerprint they will leave as part of a giant team within a giant corporation. When you work hard for months on something, its nice to see a direct positive effect result from your determination and focus.

I know the work I put out has the power to change people’s minds. That’s compelling and certainly inspires a more thoughtful work product from me.

There is more responsibility and likely more stress but, in my experience, people are willing to take that on because they deeply want to do a good job and create something solid and real that they can point to. People everywhere desire the approval of their friends and families. They want to produce something their networks will be proud of them for.


Almost everyone I come into contact with in my professional life is grateful for, or desirous of, the sense of creative freedom in his or her work. They value the idea of moving in any direction that inspires them. They don’t want to be constrained by entrenched policy or rigid company culture.

“By structuring our companies in such a way as to encourage and embrace creative non-normative thinking, we can beat the big guys.”

Because the cannabis industry is still in its infancy, it offers a tremendous opportunity for individual creative brilliance to emerge. By structuring our companies in such a way as to encourage and embrace creative non-normative thinking, we can beat the big guys.

Larger organizations can’t offer such freedom because of their hierarchal ingrained systems of management. It’s not because they don’t want to. They simply can’t pivot as quickly. They aren’t as nimble as small, new, ventures. Despite an overwhelming amount of research being published about the value add of a creative and passionate workforce, large corporations have been slow to respond.


In San Francisco, we pride ourselves on our innovative thought and disruptive business models. It is a part of what has made our area of the world a juggernaut in the business landscape and a magnet for visionary geniuses. The idea that meaningful, impactful, and creative work will be encouraged and embraced systemically is a huge draw to innovative leaders and highly skilled individuals.

“It is not about competing with the big firms. It’s about cultivating an environment they simply cannot offer.”

If hiring managers and executive teams begin a dialogue with the aim of normalizing the cannabis industry in the minds of the American public, and they offer positions that emphasize meaning, impact, and creativity, top talent will begin to flow into the industry.

It is not about competing with the big firms. It’s about cultivating an environment they simply cannot offer. This atmosphere will inspire a highly skilled workforce to make the leap because it supports multiple facets of an individual’s well-being and personal growth over the long term. It’s not about copying the old. It is about understanding what truly motivates top talent and having the vision to offer that to them.

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Portrait of Jessica Riley
Jessica Riley Director of Operations of UpToke

Jessica Riley currently serves as Director of Operations of UpToke. She is an entrepreneur with her hands in a variety of projects at any given time. Ms. Riley is a Founding Member and current Operations …