According to Forbes, the U.S. market size for cannabis is projected to reach $197.75 billion in valuation by 2028. It is a booming industry, growing rapidly and requiring skilled labor to scale it further. In fact, it’s become so normalized that job seekers can now turn to legitimate recruiters and HR professionals for help. Have you ever wanted to know how to get started on your job search? What are cannabis companies looking for in the perfect candidate? What are the most important tips to land your dream job? Or maybe you’ve secretly wondered if the recruiters themselves consume cannabis? Fortunately for you, our friends at CULTA, a vertically-integrated grower and extractor based in Maryland, took the time to share their experience. Check out this interview between CULTA’s VP of Marketing Renier Fee and Human Resources Director Morgan Dailidenas.
Interview with Cannabis Industry HR Director Morgan Dailidenas
Hi Morgan! How are you?
Hi Renier! I’m doing great. Thanks for having me!
We work together regularly but I don’t know much about your work history prior to CULTA. Let’s dig in. You graduated from Salisbury University with a psychology degree. Seems perfect for HR! Was that always your goal or did you originally want to be a psychologist?
Haha! I get that question a lot, usually followed by “well, do you ever use your psychology degree?” The answer is YES, all the time. I actually started at Salisbury wanting to pursue Nursing. It has always been my passion to want to help people. When my brother got diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), I decided to switch majors to focus on a career path into Occupational Therapy with a focus on early childhood development.
My ultimate goal at that point was to move into the OT field to help children and young adults affected by developmental disorders. Psychology allowed me to take a bunch of really interesting child development and abnormal psych courses, and my interest grew from there! When I didn’t get into the OT program, I got really discouraged but wanted to start working and making money right away. I just kept trying to find careers that focused on people, since that’s where my interest lied!
Finding a Passion for HR
How did you eventually land a career in human resources?
It was actually totally by chance! After I graduated, I was working as an account executive for a pharmaceutical company, which was not really where my passion was. The day after my birthday after my third year there, I got called into the office at 8 AM and was laid off. I felt like that was the perfect time for me to focus on my passion again. I began looking around for jobs working with people and found an awesome company on the shore who was hiring for a corporate recruiter! I loved working in recruiting and talking to lots of different people daily.
I think my first year I filled over 150 roles. I moved up pretty quickly, and one day there was an opening at the company for an HR Generalist. I still remember getting up from my desk, and nervously marching into my VP’s office and saying, “I want to put my name in the hat for the HR role.” I honestly didn’t think she would say yes, but she looked at me almost like she was waiting for me to apply! The next day, I was offered the role. I learned so much in that year, and really felt like I could make a huge difference in helping people, shaping their lives, and helping them succeed in their career! It was a win-win all around.
I commend you for taking your career into your own hands and chasing your dreams! What aspects appealed to you most about HR?
I think for me it was the fact that I am constantly helping both the people and the business. Also, my days are always different! One day I could be focused on benefits administration, and the next I could be writing a new policy or helping someone transition back to work after having a baby. It always keeps me on my toes!
I often think of HR as a pseudo legal team because of the guidelines you develop like employee handbooks and corporate benefits, or the laws you observe, like the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act, or best practices you follow like diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) standards. The acronyms alone are overwhelming! How do you stay on top of compliance?
Haha, yes they are! I did a lot of training early on in my career, but it can be overwhelming to try and keep up if you don’t have resources. I am constantly on the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) website, trying to keep up with trends or changing laws. I also lean on other peers in the industry, as well as our legal team. The HR community is really tight knit so I am lucky to have such great friends and connections!
Making the Jump to Cannabis HR
Cannabis is a highly-regulated business. How did your HR compliance experience help you make the jump into cannabis?
It was actually pretty easy! I was used to trying to help develop policies, procedures, and legalities with a previous company that I was with. I worked a lot with lawyers during that time, so I got used to having compliance be a forethought. I also have always had a passion for the plant, so I was eager to put my people skills and compliance skills to use in an industry I am passionate about!
What are some of the nuances about human resources in the cannabis industry that are different from your previous industries? My mind immediately goes to drug testing and criminal background checks. There must be different tolerance levels, forgive the pun.
Haha, yes! It was definitely a change working in an environment where everyone always smells like cannabis! In prior industries, it would have been grounds for reasonable suspicion testing. For me, it is the lengthy onboarding process to get people through drug testing, finger printing, background checks all before you can send them to the state for the badging process. That was definitely different!
I also think there is a level of compassion that HR professionals in cannabis need to display. Most of our people are so passionate about the plant and its medicinal benefits, so that is why they get into the industry. Our employees are medical patients themselves, so you have to have compassion about what people are going through and help them to the best of your ability. Cannabis culture is just a completely different ball game than most “traditional” work settings.
In November 2022, Marylanders voted to approve adult-use recreational cannabis for all adults starting as soon as July 2023. The expectation is that it will open up the local cannabis market and increase demand. Do you see that positively impacting headcount at cannabis companies?
Absolutely! I think we are all excited to see it too! While I think headcount in some areas will grow, I do think there will also be a big shift to trying to automate current processes to help with the booming demand.
Tips for Cannabis Job Seekers
I am always asked by pro-cannabis enthusiasts how to get their foot in the door at a cannabis company. What is your advice?
Apply, apply, apply! Also, make sure your resume reads well. I think it’s important to stand out any way you can. When I see a really outstanding resume (even if the person has worked in food service or customer service roles and not in cannabis) I want to talk to them!
Is there a website you recommend for job searches or a recruiting agency?
There are tons! I would always try the bigger name agencies like CannabizTeam.com. You can also look on Indeed, Monster, Career Builder, etc. Most cannabis companies that I know post all their roles online so a quick Google search will usually yield results!
What are your top three tips for prospective job applicants who are searching for jobs on CannabizTeam?
- Make sure your location is set for a good, commutable distance.
- If you are lucky enough to get a phone or in person interview, come prepared and dress for the role that you want!
- Always ask questions. It will show your recruiter or hiring team that you are curious and excited about the potential opportunity.
- (I know you said three, but this is important!) Show up on time. Remember, if you’re early you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late!
Four tips are welcome. I could not agree more with your #3. As a hiring manager, enthusiasm has been a differentiator in my top candidate picks. What are the common misconceptions candidates have when interviewing for a cannabis gig?
I think one of the biggest ones is that the interview is going to be “easy” or “casual.” I can count on one hand the number of times I have had a potential candidate show up dressed to impress. Remember, this is still an interview, even if the industry and culture is more casual, it is your time to shine, and first impressions matter! Also, doing some basic research and preparing good questions will help you stand out. We have anywhere from 200-400 people apply per open role, so doing what you can to set yourself apart will help you land that role!
Medical Cannabis in Maryland
Is it weird to break down that old barrier of talking about medicine with job candidates and employees?
For me? Not really. I have been talking about cannabis and CBD products in my family for years. After my brother’s diagnosis, we turned to a lot of holistic options, CBD being one of them. It was really cool to see it shape his life in a positive way. So for me, I always want to talk about the plant and help break down the stigma around it. I am the weird person at the coffee shop who is like, “Hey, have you tried medical cannabis for that?”
Maybe we do away with the stigma right now. Can I ask you if you consume medical cannabis? Do you have a favorite strain?
I do! I became a patient not long after I started with CULTA. I was dealing with some anxiety and insomnia issues, so I figured, why not! I absolutely love our Amnesia OG. For me, that always does the trick.
Amnesia OG is one of our best sellers! Back to recruitment and onboarding. Because cannabis is still federally illegal, does that affect the corporate benefits new cannabis hires assume come standard with the job?
It can! That was definitely an eye opener for me. There were a couple companies that I had worked with previously for things like Benefits, or HR Info Systems. When I started here they reached out to me to see if we were happy with our current providers, but the minute I told them it was a cannabis company they froze. It took me a while to realize that it was because of the federal legality of cannabis. I think we are really lucky to be able to offer such a great benefits package to our employees and I know we worked really hard to be able to get these benefits.
Maryland medical patients, fans, and employees voted for CULTA to win Explore Maryland Cannabis’ ”Best Place to work in Maryland Cannabis” award. What are some of the reasons you think we won?
It is definitely our team! We have some of the most inspiring, dedicated, and hard-working employees in the industry. Our staff can feel it, and I can feel the excitement radiating off them when I walk around and chat with people. Every day I wake up and pinch myself, because I have never worked with such an outstanding group of individuals. I also think our benefits and PTO package is generous especially in our industry!
Would you like to give any shoutouts before we conclude this interview?
Of course, I want to shout out my team. Kim Graefe is an amazing HR generalist who helps me with hiring, administration, and employee relations. I want to give credit to my amazing mother, who shaped me into the human that I am today. My husband who has supported my career since day one, and my 3-year-old who I get up and hustle for everyday!
Thank you Morgan for being so candid with me. I know the Cannabiz Team readers will benefit from your insight.
I have loved this time together! Thanks, Renier, for picking my brain!
*Legal disclaimer: Medical cannabis is for certified/qualifying patients only. Must be at least 18 years old to view content.