MBA students pursuing cannabis career, a blemish choice or an astute action?
Cannabis is a controversial topic. It is undeniable that it’s a growing market in the US, sparking a job called pot entrepreneur. A survey conducted by New Frontier Data, a cannabis business intelligence organization, shows that the legal cannabis market recorded 20 billion dollars in sales in 2021 and is expected to rise to $41.5 billion in 2025.
The sale of cannabis is federally illegal in the US but 16 individual states have declared legalization of recreational marijuana, including major regions like New York and California. The effect of the legalization is substantial, creating a significant amount of tax revenue and contributing to the financial stabilization of the state.
Marijuana is at the center of the attention of organizations and governments to utilize the legalization of marijuana in their favor and interest. Also, it is receiving interest from MBA students and management professors. A small, but notable, few individuals in the business school hold the ambition to deliver marijuana into the agenda for business school.
MBA graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business from the Class of 2021, Nick Bellamy, was one of those students who showed immense interest in the market of marijuana. His initial interest began when he witnessed the positive side of the use of marijuana for his grandfather’s cancer treatment. Nick said “Marijuana helped him greatly. This made me wonder why marijuana isn’t commonly used in our society.”
It didn’t take too long for Nick to be heavily into the marijuana industry and acknowledge its potential to grow. This led to his decision to apply for Berkeley’s business school in 2019 because of their liberal reputation and knowing he’ll acquire crucial knowledge to start his business career in the cannabis industry. “Entering the cannabis industry is an abnormal career path and its uniqueness attracted me,” says Nick.
Other business schools weren’t too fond of his idea with concerns. He received some concerns about the potential stigma it could create on him in the field of business and that it would place negative values on his career. He is not the only one, but one of the few growing members of MBA students that are continuing their career path in the marijuana industry in the US, which is at the borderline of legal.
Reformation and perceptions around Cannabis
The movement behind cannabis and the linkage to the business school is driven by their students. This is achieved through the establishment of cannabis industry clubs across business schools in the US, where it resides in states with legalized marijuana. Notable schools include NYU’s Stern School in New York and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in California.
Peter Kasper, an MBA graduate at USC Marshall in 2021, was the founder and the president of the Marshall Cannabis Industry Club beginning in 2019 till 2021. “I believe schools are missing out on an obvious chance. It is a great opportunity to reveal to students who should recognize the growing industry with the help of the school”, he says.
“Schools need to express that they are showing interest in what students are demanding and utilizing their resources to match those demands,” Kasper explains. Agendas were pushed and delivered to the USC, where they were able to adhere to the genuine requests and passion from the students with career paths and wanting a functioning alumni network. Kasper explains the meaningful impact that the organizations can create with their influence on this growing industry.
While the student’s engagement keeps the movement alive, professors are showing their part to contribute to this trend. Scott Stern from MIT’s Sloan School of Management has included cannabis in his curriculum. Those studies are on the distribution of cannabis and Mary Gentile from Virginia’s Darden School of Business where she comprised a case of taxes and business regarding cannabis into her syllabus.
However, the perception of the cannabis industry by the current population is still negative and the movement to include the study of the cannabis industry in college is still met with challenges. Cannabis is a stigma in the present MBA syllabus with rarity due to its characteristics. Bellamy explains “No matter what I do, I could be labeled as a pothead regardless of my actions. It’s an image and a perception that is formed over decades even though there are things out there like alcohol and cigarettes which outputs more negative results than cannabis.”
“Cannabis Dream” for post-MBA graduates
Cannabis is a nascent industry for MBA graduates. Last year, Kasper launched Terpil, which targets cannabis consumers by providing a product recommendations platform. He believes that the career paths in the current cannabis industry are substantial. With its nascent nature and the rapid growth in the market, there are vacant opportunities for everyone. “Just like every other company, cannabis companies require people in all sectors like operation, law, sales, marketing, and finance. You will always find a role and if it’s not there, it will be created.”, says Kasper.
The market is expanding with numerous startup companies. Bellamy is a cannabis investor at Entourage Effect Capital. He highlights the demand for MBA talents in the market and that the industry requires more skilled and talented individuals to join the industry. He states, “It’s a great opportunity if you’re a graduating from MBA and looking for an opportunity.”
Sara Gluck is a graduate from UVA Darden School of Business with experience in the cannabis industry like America Israel Cannabis Association, which is her own business. She warns about entering the industry with its unique characteristics that are unlike other markets. Intolerance of financial services from the bank and practically forbidden to pursue online markets due to its illegal nature at the federal level make it so difficult to start a successful cannabis business.
“Succeeding in the cannabis market requires you to acquire multiple elements. That includes a willingness to learn and have endurance.”, says Gluck. However, because of the volatile state of the cannabis market, she expects many career opportunities to surge in areas of operating logistics and marketing. A monopoly is near impossible and there are always opportunities to expand.
The agenda to legalize marijuana is seen as an urgent agenda to fight racial injustice due to its disproportionate arrests of African American and Hispanic users compared to white users. Another challenge is the underrepresentation of racial minorities in the industry. Gluck claims that one of the difficulties of the industry is from the lack of racial minorities. He quoted that the “War on Drugs and the hurdles to enter the market in the legalized states is creating shortage and underrepresentation of people of color.”.
Read more: Could MBA Students Manage Global Chaos?