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People can make a few extra bucks in the cannabis business — they just have to be willing to pack up and move to the eastern US.

Businesses in states with emerging medical and recreational marijuana markets are paying big bucks to attract experienced employees from states such as California, Washington and Oregon, where the cannabis industry and accompanying workforces are already well established, according to James Yagielo, co-founder and CEO of HempStaff, a medical marijuana training and recruiting company.

“East of the Mississippi is definitely paying a lot higher than West of the Mississippi,” Yagielo said.

Cannabis operators in East Coast states that are newer to legalizing recreational or medical cannabis are having to broaden their geographic search for people with cannabis business experience, forcing them to pay a premium to convince experienced employees to move, according to Yagielo.

His firm recently placed a manager from a California dispensary with a cannabis seller in Maryland. The owner of the business was looking for someone with at least 10 years of experience managing dispensaries. Medical marijuana has been legal in Maryland for less than five years, making it impossible for anyone from Maryland to have that amount of experience.

They negotiated an annual salary of $91,000 for the manager, well above the $51,000 he was earning at his California position, according to Yagielo. He had no shortage of west-to-east recruiting examples to offer.

Yagielo said he found a master cultivator in Los Angeles for the same job in Pennsylvania. The cultivator accepted $120,000 per year to make the move – a $30,000 raise.

Robin Ann Morris, CEO and owner of MaryJane Agency LLC in Sandusky, Ohio, listed the salary ranges for the top three jobs that companies need:

  • Grow master (master cultivator): $100,000 – $120,000
  • Extraction specialist (master extractor): $90,000 – $120,000
  • Dispensary manager: $80,000 – $120,000

Morris believes another reason for the high salaries is the small talent pool, which seems to force companies to compete with one another for top employees.

“I'm hearing that companies are finding it hard to keep good talent,” she said.

Yagielo, who has a list of top salaries that was similar to Morris's, has found that master extractors are the most sought after and highly paid talent in the cannabis industry. He said most employers expect a PhD level of education in a discipline such as chemistry from a potential master extractor candidate.

“We've seen salaries for a master extractor go up to $180,000 a year,” Yagielo said.

Master extractors tend to garner big offers because their performance is directly tied to profits. They are charged with streamlining processes – helping a company get better and refining terpenes or cannabinoids – which in turn can earn a business more profits.

Yagielo's firm has requests from employers looking for master extractors with experience working for big-name corporations, such as Johnson and Johnson, or from reputable pharmaceutical companies, such as Merck.

They also seek master cultivators who have been cultivating cannabis for at least five years. His agency has placed master cultivators with salaries as high as $150,000, while candidates with experience as dispensary managers are also in demand in the eastern US, Yagielo said, noting those managers have been landing $75,000 annual salaries in the newer markets.

Though experience in the cannabis industry tops the list of qualities employers are seeking for all candidates, dispensary owners may be willing to hire assistant managers with experience in other industries.

Yagielo has seen coffee shop managers leave their jobs to become an assistant dispensary manager to get experience before moving up to a management post.

Not all jobs are as lucrative. For candidates without in-demand experience,  there's “a massive drop in salaries,” as they tend to be labor-related – working the fields, delivery, or budtenders, according to Yagielo.

Beyond seeking experience, Morris said her agency has been asked by employers to get them candidates with a passion for the industry.

“This industry is like one big extended family with a common interest,” she said, “And we all seem to bond due to our love of cannabis.”

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