Gregg Greenberg is the co-founder and co-CEO of Everything But The Plant, a B2B ancillary eCommerce marketplace that sells everything you need to build, run, and grow your cannabis business.
No matter what type of industry you work in, you should strive to be the best boss for your employees, yourself, and your business. If you’re planning on running a cannabis company, you’ll want to narrow your niche and focus on a market with less competition. With the popularity of CBD, industrial hemp, medical and recreational marijuana, topicals, capsules, concentrates, and more, this shouldn’t be too hard. Since cannabis has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, you have a variety of products and services you can capitalize on.
And this also means a nearly limitless supply of excited, cannabis-passionate employees. Being the CEO of a cannabis company is a lot like being in charge of any other business — treat your employees right, and they’ll do right by you (most of the time). However, you must also understand that cannabis is still largely illegal across the country.
As the CEO, you must have a basic understanding of the laws, rules, and regulations that affect your business. Further, you must stay abreast of developments as changing laws and regulations are constantly presenting new opportunities to sell.
Remember, how you conduct yourself as a leader sets the tone and creates the path of success for your entire company. Show your staff that you’re not just the person in charge — you know and care about what’s going on. Be sincere and seek knowledge about your business and you will gain the respect and appreciation of your employees.
In this article about being the best cannabis boss, we will discuss the following topics:
- Educating yourself
- Providing learning opportunities for your employees
- Adhering to laws, regulations, and guidelines
- Biting off only what you can chew
- Other important tips
Whether you got into the cannabis industry because of your interest or knowledge of hemp or simply because you are business savvy, now is a good time to further your education. Look, cannabis is exploding. Some people are even comparing it to the gold rush — it’s a green rush. And while you may have substantial business knowledge, perhaps an MBA or other related degree, the industry and the laws that govern cannabis, are ever-expanding.
To be an effective CEO in the cannabis industry, consider these resources for self-educating yourself about running a marijuana business:
- Cannabis learning materials — A quick search online is all you need to view a nearly endless list of books, online courses, community classes, and easy to use software to help you brush up on your cannabis knowledge. Cannabis industry experts and novices alike benefit from scientific publications and online or brick and mortar classes. A popular online cannabis university seen on VICE, is Oaksterdam University. They offer a number of affordable online classes ranging from the basics of horticulture to starting your own cannabis business. Another great way to learn is to engage with other successful entrepreneurs (they don’t have to be in the cannabis field either). Ask how they found success, what sets them apart, etc.
- Business and marketing guidance — There are plenty of educational opportunities and resources available to help you become a successful cannabis CEO. Even if you’re in a position in which you rely on a marketing department, it can’t hurt to have a better understanding of what’s going on. If you feel intimidated, a great place to start is with a free online course, like those offered at Sophia.org. Currently, the platform has free classes on accounting, building an effective team, project management, and an intro to business.
- Legal information — The one thing that sets cannabis businesses apart from all other companies is: the law. Cannabis is federally prohibited. Certain states, however, have legalized it for recreational and/or medicinal use. Thus, to be an effective cannabis CEO, you must have a thorough understanding of the legal obstacles you face, the laws governing your industry, and new changes that are on the horizon. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is an incredible resource for anyone that is looking for knowledge about cannabis. From legal issues to state specific info, NORML is dedicated to educating the public about cannabis.
Whether you know nothing about marijuana, or are already a successful cannabis CEO, you can benefit greatly from the many educational opportunities that are available — from comprehensive business guides to articles on growing outdoors.
However, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. You can increase productivity and creativity by investing in the education of your employees — empower your staff to embolden your brand.
Providing educational opportunities for employees
Encouraging or requiring your employees to possess a certain level of knowledge can help build a strong foundation for your business. During interviews, potential staff should undergo screening to gauge their level of expertise as well as their interest and desire to learn.
Providing your staff with educational materials and encouraging them to take classes will let them know they represent an important part of your organization. Furthermore, it will cement your reputation as an effective leader in the cannabis industry. Conducting meetings or workshops with internal or outside experts on a particular subject is yet another way to help your employees gain knowledge and better serve your customers. Take a look at the following companies that have found success by educating their employees:
- Amazon — Today, everyone has an opinion about the retail delivery giant. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you cannot deny their innovative and effective methods of achieving success. In 2019, the company invested $700 million to upskill employees. Today, Upskilling 2025, is focusing on the employees of tomorrow, “We’re launching, scaling and investing in skills training programs that support employees across our corporate offices, tech hubs, fulfillment centers, retail stores and transportation networks. Small and large, the programs meet our employees where they are – providing opportunities for Amazonians to get trained, at their place of work, in high-demand areas like medicine, cloud computing, and machine learning.”
- Disney — Disney, arguably the most successful media company in the world, is also seeing the light when it comes to educating employees. Through its Aspire program, Disney offers employees 100% tuition paid for high school completion, Master’s degrees, skilled trade diplomas, undergraduate degrees, English and Spanish language learning courses, and more.
- The Home Depot — Recognizing the need for better educated employees, the home improvement company is offering tuition assistance to certain employees. The program “…provides part-time hourly employees $1,500 for educational expenses on their first day, $3,000 to full-time hourly employees and $5,000 for salaried employees.”
Disney, Amazon, The Home Depot — these are not small fries. These are hugely successful, obscenely profitable businesses. And they acknowledge the importance of educating their employees. However, in the cannabis industry, you need more than business acumen — you need a basic understanding of the legal guidelines governing the sale, use, etc, of cannabis.
Adhering to guidelines and regulations
If you want to be the best cannabis boss, you must understand and adhere to the laws and regulations that govern the industry. This includes laws regarding proper packaging as well as THC concentrations, edibles, and where you can sell. Make sure to keep all staff members informed through meetings and written communications too.
Rules, laws, and regulations you should stay on top of include:
- Federal laws and scheduling changes — Despite loosening restrictions and social norms, cannabis is federally illegal. According to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811, marijuana is a Schedule I drug. This means that the federal government has determined the plant to be a) highly addictive b) have no medical use. Although such opinions of cannabis are outdated and inaccurate, they persist, nonetheless. You need to keep your eye on this law as it has massive implications about how you conduct your business, where your business profits are stored, etc.
- State laws — To make things more complicated, you also need to understand state laws and regulations. Currently, as of the writing of this article, marijuana is legal in 11 states for adults 21 years of age and older, and legal for medical use in 33 states. To become a successful cannabis CEO, you need to ask certain questions — Is medicinal marijuana legal in your state? What about recreational? What sort of laws exist in your tri-state area? The answers to these questions can substantially impact your profit margins.
- Social media restrictions — Social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc, have certain rules about what can and cannot be marketed on their platforms. As a cannabis business owner, you want to fully exploit these channels. However, if you do not take the time to understand their regulations, your accounts may be suspended or deleted.
You could have the best cannabis business concept in the world. But if it violates U.S. law, your dream could be shut down before it begins. Do your homework, know the laws, and ensure your business complies. And don’t forget to make sure you and your employees are aware of other social and legal issues that might affect your ability to conduct cannabis business.
Biting off only what you can chew
In your efforts to be the best cannabis CEO, don’t make the mistake of taking on more than you can handle. Many ambitious, and passionate entrepreneurs fail to launch, or crash hard, because they bite off more than they can chew.
Fortunately, you can avoid being overwhelmed by following a few basic tips:
- Start small — There are so many opportunities in the cannabis sector that it can be dizzying. Passion is a good thing. But instead of channeling your energy and efforts towards many prospects, focus only on what you can handle right now.
- Expand slowly — A common mistake that many businesses make is expanding too quickly. Rapid expansion can topple an otherwise successful business. If your online sales are strong, do you really need a brick and mortar location? Is there a demand? Is the cost of the rent/utilities manageable? Take a look at Daniel Lubetzky, the creator of KIND Snacks, who almost lost everything by expanding too fast. In a story covered by USA Today, Lubetzky explained, “I wanted to grow very fast.” And initially he did, but found a hard time turning a profit. Then, he went back to the drawing board and spent 2 years designing a high-quality snack bar.
- Step back — Being an effective leader in the cannabis industry requires clarity. You should regularly step back from your business and look at your company through a new lens. How well is the machine running? Are employees happy? What do the next 3-6 months look like?
Whether you’re selling flower, CBD, edibles, hydroponics, or a marijuana related-service, there’s no doubt — it’s an exciting time to run a cannabis company. But like other business endeavors, there are risks. However, you can increase your chances of building a successful brand by not biting off more than you can chew.
Lest you be discouraged, remember that many successful CEOs started where you are now and asked the same questions as you.
To be a respected cannabis boss, you’ll want to take notice of the many issues affecting the cannabis industry in the modern era.
Ongoing issues that might impact cannabis business
The National Cannabis Industry Association or NCIA also provides a list of some other relevant ongoing and current issues you should be aware of:
- Social justice — White and black communities use recreational marijuana at about the same rate yet. However, black communities record four times the number of marijuana-related arrests.
- CBD regulations — Since the Hemp Farm act of 2015, cannabis regulations mirror that of other supplements. This relaxed regulation means impure products with false claims don’t get inspected until a complaint takes place.
- Vaping — Over the past year, vaping has gotten a bad rap. If you plan on selling in this space, you must be aware of health and safety concerns. Be ready to adjust your angle or change your business model depending on data.
- Opioid addiction — Cannabis provides a safe alternative for pain and anxiety and may even assist with the recovery process.
- Public stereotypes — Racism and Reefer Madness took cannabis paranoia to new levels. The ongoing struggle to change public perception needs constant review. Today, the “stoner” culture image is slowly eroding away.
- COVID-19 — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced nearly every business to make significant changes. Plant and product handlers must adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Business leaders need to realize the importance of showing empathy for employees and clients during this challenging time.
- Civil unrest/racial issues — Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there is civil unrest across much of the country right now. As the CEO of your company, you need to recognize how these issues are affecting your target demographic as well as your ability to conduct business.
Acknowledging and when necessary, confronting these issues, will help you lead with authority, connect with your audience, and remain authentic while showing you are compassionate and insightful.
Other tips that will make you a successful cannabis boss and improve your business
Sometimes all that’s needed for success is a nudge in the right direction. Here are some other tips that might help you be the best cannabis boss possible:
- Trust your staff — Don’t try to do it all! Trust your staff and delegate duties and projects to qualified employees.
- Be present — Many CEOs are involved and dedicated right up until “success”. Don’t be aloof after you’ve “made it”. Show your staff and your employees that you remain passionate about the company. Passion is contagious — your workers will be more eager to show up and get the job done knowing they have a strong and excited leader.
- Try new things — If something doesn’t work, try something else. If your employees don’t seem to get that much out of a Friday afternoon meeting, change it to midweek.
- Communicate and listen to your staff — Whenever possible, an open-door policy represents the best policy. Try to get everyone involved in discussions at meetings. A good old-fashioned suggestion box also offers an opportunity for anonymous suggestions or grievances.
- Talk to your customers — At the end of the day you are running a business. To be the best cannabis CEO possible, you need to understand your target audience.
- Assess and reassess — Conduct routine one-on-one check-ins and structured reviews. Reward outstanding performances and offer guidance to a struggling but promising employee.
- Take criticism — Great CEOs know that improvements can always be made. If you receive criticism from an employee — listen. If a customer complains — pay attention. If the media leaves an unfavorable review, resist the urge to fly off the handle. And remember to frequently read customer feedback and testimonials on social media and other channels.
The cannabis industry represents an important tenet of the health and wellness scene. It helps us with pain, inflammation, stress, and other medical disorders. It also provides products to improve and enhance our skin and hair. Being a successful cannabis boss involves self-education and criticism, investing in your employees, following legal regulations and guidelines, and keeping your fingers on the pulse of society.
Be honest about what you know. Seek help for the things you don’t. And remember, there’s no end to education — you can always learn new information, ideas, and techniques to better your business, your employees, and yourself.