Cannabis Jobs Are Budding in Westchester County

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The legalization of adult recreational marijuana sparks the growth of an entirely new job industry across the 914.

The newly legalized adult recreational marijuana industry is predicted to begin delivering a crop of jobs — many of which don’t require experience or a post-secondary degree — across Westchester County by late 2023 or early 2024.

Free courses are available for finding an onramp into this budding industry and receiving the training required to land a job, especially in the retail sector that likely will comprise the lion’s share of the opportunities.

More than a dozen towns and villages, from Cortlandt to Rye, have opted to allow a mix of dispensaries and onsite consumption, with five cities — New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Peekskill, White Plains, and Yonkers — approving both.

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As license approvals began rolling out in early April, Westchester and the Mid-Hudson region anticipated a range of entry-level employment options requiring only a high school diploma or equivalent, many estimated to pay above Westchester’s $15-an-hour minimum wage.

A sample of nationwide salary ranges indicates budtenders — the industry term for a staff member who works at a retail site — earn between $17 and $28 per hour plus tips, with delivery drivers making between $16 and $26 hourly plus tips.

Positions in front-end sales, packaging, manufacturing, and support staff are likely to be in demand for applicants with a high school background; customer service representatives, lab workers, and social media content managers may need prior work experience.

Workers in the industry’s supply sector — including cultivation, processing, and warehousing — will be needed to serve the retail sector, says James K. Landau of the Hudson Valley Cannabis Industry Association. Entry-level positions in that sector, such as bud trimmers, production technicians, packagers, and warehouse associates, are paid an estimated range of $16 to $25 per hour.

Employees must be at least age 21 for retail jobs that require direct interaction with customers at dispensaries, consumption sites, and delivery points. Regulations in other sectors of the industry had yet to be finalized at the time of writing.

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Jobs in Marijuana
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What Skills Do You Need?

Cannabis-related skills aren’t typically required to get in on the ground floor, says Saul Guerrero of Local 338, which represents medical marijuana dispensary workers in White Plains.

“The more important thing is, do you have the skills that are needed for the hospitality/retail industry?” says Guerrero. “Are you hospitable, are you approachable, do you have the time management skills, all the basic skills that you would look for to be hired for any other retail job is what they look for in the cannabis industry. If you have knowledge of cannabis, that goes a long way, but you don’t have to have it.”

The state Department of Labor’s Cannabis Career Exploration guide lists attention to detail, basic math, a positive attitude, strong communication skills, and adaptability as key attributes.

Social equity is baked into New York’s process of determining who gets licenses to grow, manufacture, and sell cannabis products. The process also imposes hiring mandates and community impact stipulations, such as providing extra support to applicants from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition in the past.

If you don’t know where to start, the Cannabis Workforce Initiative is a good first step. This nonprofit provides a range of training and education while prioritizing diversity and equity.

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“Folks are trying to figure out what they want to do and the Cannabis Workforce Initiative helps people figure it out with live online and inperson training, free of charge,” says Project Manager David Serrano.

“This industry is so new, and the demand for the workforce is going to be so large, that there’s not going to be enough of a supply of qualified individuals at the level that some of these employers would like.”
—Alejandro Alvarez, Co-founder, The New Grow Center

The initiative’s “Seed to Sale: Cannabis Career Exploration” course and worker rights certificate program have been designed to cover all aspects of the workplace.

Serrano predicts a burgeoning need for van drivers — who are not required to hold a commercial license — to deliver products from manufacturing to retail sites.

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Look for Openings in Cannabis-Adjacent Trades

A New Rochelle-based training business, The New Grow Center, anticipates needs in various sectors connected with the cannabis industry, including building trades.

“This industry is so new, and the demand for the workforce is going to be so large, that there’s not going to be enough of a supply of qualified individuals at the level that some of these employers would like,” says New Grow Center Co-founder Alejandro Alvarez. “That’s where we help out in closing that gap.”

Alvarez emphasizes the need for tradespeople in carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC “for people who may not want to get involved with the plant.” (These skills are needed in the construction or retrofitting of facilities where cannabis will be grown and sold.) His business provides hands-on skills and safety training — which will be transferable outside the cannabis industry.

For prospective employees 18 and over looking for a fast track into the industry, Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry is offering eight-week online certification through its CERTiFi division.

Courses include training for retail dispensary associates and a manufacturing agent certificate for jobs covering extraction, product development, safety, labeling, testing, and storage. As a bonus, says Mercy’s Marketing Director Regina Wattley, students also get access to an employers’ network.

While the regulatory process continues and dispensary licenses in Westchester and elsewhere in the Hudson Valley have been slowed by legal challenges, prospective job seekers have had a chance to get prepared, says Dwayne Norris, New Grow Center’s co-founder.

“Westchester maybe is not rolling out as quickly as some people would like,” says Norris, a member of the Westchester African American Advisory Board. “But the jobs will be coming, and when they come, one, you have transferable skills that are already valuable to the market, but two, you do need to take some time to educate yourself to finding some of the specifics of this industry and find the courses and training opportunities to help fill the gaps in your knowledge.”

Related: What Legalizing Cannabis Means for Westchester’s Workplaces

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