Here's What Happened When 3 People Ditched Their Careers to Work in Weed

Would you risk it all to make money in the marijuana market?

la dispensary on independence day

Image via Getty/Frederic J. Brown

la dispensary on independence day

The legal marijuana industry has been growing in leaps and bounds over the last several years (as of the November election, 26 states and Washington D.C. have legalized weed in some way), which means there are plenty of jobs and tons of money to be made from working in cannabis. While outsiders may think of marijuana as an industry run by chill stoners, the reality is, like any other multi-billion dollar industry, the world of weed is comprised of corporate types, startup entrepreneurs, and retail pros (and yes, there are plenty of chill stoners, too).

As big as the industry is getting (there were 100,000 people employed in legal weed as of April 2016), it’s still very much in its baby stages, which means there’s a lot of opportunity for businesses to grow, and for new businesses to take root. Marijuana is a lifestyle and passion for many, which is leading all sorts of people to jump ship on their existing careers to make a name for themselves during the “green rush.”

Complex spoke with three people who walked away from established careers in booze, tech, and fashion to test the bong waters of the weed industry. Here’s what they had to say:

Kedric George

ebbu website

Kedric George started his career in marketing at Procter and Gamble, where he stayed for about seven years before working for MillerCoors for nearly eight years. After leaving MillerCoors in August 2016, George became the Vice President of Marketing, Sales, and Operations for ebbu, a cannabis lifestyle startup in Colorado.

Complex: You spent a long time working in the beer industry. What made you want to make the switch from alcohol to cannabis?

Kedric George: I wanted to try something new where I could grow and learn, and have a career that would fuel my passion instead of simply funding my passions. I looked around and felt that there were a lot of similarities between the spirits industry during prohibition and where we are now in the cannabis industry. Marijuana is highly regulated, both alcohol and marijuana have a recreational nature (though of course there are plenty of medical uses that are still being explored), and both alcohol and cannabis can be polarizing subjects. So I saw this as an opportunity to think about how to grow a brand and a business in cannabis, and how to leave an imprint and become a pioneer and leave a legacy that will last forever. All of these aspects were extremely exciting and attractive to me.

What was it like transitioning from MillerCoors, a highly established company, to a startup in a relatively new industry that still faces a lot of uncertainty?

My work in the transition so far has been interesting, both into the cannabis industry and to a startup. The industry is in its infancy; there’s not a lot of defined processes, the rules and the laws are still growing and changing. Not only that, but regulating bodies are still learning and understanding the business. It’s like guiding a very small boat at sea; you never know which way the wind is going to blow, or if the waves will blow over your business or the whole industry. It’s tough, but it’s one of those things where if you can survive it as a business, I think you can look back at that experience and think about how much you enjoyed those days when you were just a little row boat making it work out in the ocean.

oregon dispensary sale

Tell us about ebbu itself. What do you offer and what are you working on currently?

The promise of the company is the notion of making cannabis enjoyable to the mainstream. Our co-founder John Cooper will say that his vision is generally about creating cannabis products that show up in everyday life. From the ability to consume a product that might give you focus or energy, or that might produce a very good high, to products such as soft drinks, shampoo, and cooking products. Ebbu wants to take cannabis to the mainstream, no matter what the usage is. We believe there’s a ton of different uses for the plant outside of recreation, and we feel the path to that is a brand that’s built on a consistent, reliable, predictable, and trusted product.

To this end, we have four PhDs on staff who are experts in chromatography [a “technique for separating the components, or solutes, of a mixture”] and cellular pharmacology, and clinical pharmacology. Basically what we’re doing is purifying cannabinoids and putting them in formulations that don’t exist in nature, but should have a consistent and specific impact on the consumer that we can create over and over again.

Do you have advice to share with anyone hoping to break into the cannabis industry?

Do your research on the company or area that you’re looking to break into. Companies that are around on Monday might not be here on Friday, so do your due diligence and understand what you’re getting into. Even companies that appear to be strong and set up for the long term aren’t necessarily how they seem. There are so many jobs outside of the people who actually touch the product, so be sure you have an idea of what specific path you want to take into the industry—it could be marketing and advertising or working in a shop. Lastly, be able to articulate what you bring to the table and what it is you want to get out of your experience in the industry. Everyone is flocking to states that have legalized cannabis to work in this field, so it’s important to be able to stand out.

Rosie Mattio

rosie mattio

Rosie Mattio is founder and principal of Rosie Mattio Public Relations, one of the first PR firms to represent cannabis companies. Prior to starting her own company, Mattio worked in tech and lifestyle PR.

Complex: Lifestyle and tech seem like they would have a lot in common with the weed industry. Was your transition from Lifestyle and tech PR to weed PR an easy one, or were there unexpected challenges?

Rosie Mattio: My transition to Cannabis PR was fairly easy, but of course not without challenges. I had spent the first 12 years of my career building relationships with editors in the food, lifestyle, and tech space, so entering a new industry and forging relationships with a whole new set of reporters was both exciting but also a process. Fortunately, I have been able to take my previous skill set and experiences and translate them to this new industry, and have created new and really strong contacts with a new set of journalists. Many of whom I can call friends now.

What about the weed industry made you want to jump ship on your previous job and join the cannabis industry?

I knew almost immediately after taking on my first few cannabis clients that I wanted to work in this industry and create a niche in the market as a cannabis publicist. The excitement the reporters had for this new set of cannabis businesses and the industry was unlike any other product or service I had pitched before. And being able to tell stories that had truly never been told before was really gratifying.

How did your friends and family respond when you decided to work in weed? Were people supportive of the transition or kind of like, “What the heck, Rosie?”

I remember my sister-in-law called me up after my 12-year-old niece saw me post some articles I had garnered for cannabis clients on my Facebook page. My niece asked her "Mom, is aunt Rosie doing something illegal? Does she take drugs?" It was actually a great teaching moment because I was able to communicate to my niece that cannabis is legal in many parts of the country (including Washington, where I live), that I am not a regular cannabis consumer, and that this is a unique business opportunity in a growing new industry.  

Also, I am a wife and mother of four small daughters, so there is definitely a juxtaposition of soccer mom and marijuana mom. But my husband is forward-thinking, and sees the future of this industry as I do, and could not be prouder of me. As they grow up, I hope my daughters will look at me as someone who took on a challenge and succeeded, and be proud as well. And who knows? Maybe one of them will come work for me one day.  

Is it as fun to work in the marijuana world as it sounds to outsiders?

I constantly tell people that I have never had more fun in my career as I am having now. From meeting all types of cannabis consumers by launching Cannabis Social Network, High There!, to seeing the creation of new brands and edibles from start to finish, to learning about the latest data and technology from my canna-tech clients, to attending the many cannabis conferences and festivals...I am always busy and learning from new people and experiences.  

The weed industry is a new one, which means there are a ton of opportunities for growth, but the lack of federal legal support means things are uncertain. Do you think job security is pretty good in cannabis right now?

While there is still a pretty long road to federal legalization, over 70 million people (20% of the nation) can now consume cannabis legally in some form as of the November election. So the tide is continuing to turn in the right direction. Everyday I hear about a new company launching in some facet of the industry. I think this sector is only going to continue to grow, and I am grateful to be part of it and hope to expand my business as the industry moves forward.

Stephen Gold

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Stephen Gold worked in the NYC fashion industry for four years before making the move to the cannabis industry. Gold now lives in Oregon is now co-owner of the Daily Leaf, a Groupon-like service for cannabis, with Andy Yashar.

Complex: You started out in fashion in New York City, an industry a lot of people would love to work in. What made you decide to leave fashion for the world of weed?

Stephen Gold: I got into the cannabis industry kind of by accident. After college, I worked as the manager of a reggae band, and even though the band did well, I was still living in my parents’ basement and I wanted to see what else was out there. I responded to a Craigslist ad for a job at a textile design studio and got the job, which kept me really busy traveling around the world, but I got burnt out, and didn’t see myself being able to move up in the business.

I’ve always had a passion for cannabis and came to love Oregon after many visits for work, so wanting to try something new, I decided to head out to Oregon and start my own cannabis company.

Tell us a little about your weed venture, the Daily Leaf.

My partner Andy Yashar and I set out to create something that would deliver real-time deals to consumers from dispensaries, which did not exist when we started the company. It’s kind of like Groupon for cannabis. Dispensaries have the ability to log-in, enter any information they want, and push it out to the consumer. We’ve evolved in the time since we started to include brands into the mix to help them get visibility and do product launches. We’ve had brand launches for Marley Naturals and Fortune. We currently work with 10 brands and about 50 dispensaries.

Were there lessons from the fashion industry you’ve been able to translate to working in the marijuana business?

Coming from the fashion industry, I have an eye for good aesthetics, and always want things to look perfect. So everything we put out, we want it to have that careful eye to ensure that everything looks perfect and presentable. Even when we first launched and had only 50 people following us on social media, we presented everything as if we had 5,000 followers, and that made us stand out. When we started a year and a half ago, we capitalized on Instagram and used images to showcase our services, things like that.

So is working in the cannabis industry a dream job for you?

It is a lot of fun because cannabis is a passion of mine, so it’s good to be around it and work with other people who are passionate about it, but it’s not as luxurious as it may seem. We throw a lot of events with DJs and booths from different companies and taste testing and bong pong, it’s really cool to be able to put a marijuana spin on everything that’s "normal."

Are there any myths about working in marijuana you’d like to dispel?

There’s a perception that the industry is just a bunch of stoners who sit around and get high and just spitball ideas, but that’s not the case. There are people from all walks of life who are interested in and work in cannabis, and the caliber of person who work in the industry is pretty sophisticated. There are great people of different walks who have always been involved with the industry, but the industry is definitely becoming more sophisticated.

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