I often joke that I can talk anyone out of the cannabis industry in less than three minutes.
As a co-owner of Trail Blazin’ Productions and president of The Cannabis Alliance, I get a lot of emails from people anxious to get into the industry because they believe in the product. I received one the other day that also outlined some questions and concerns they had about the business, so I want to share that exchange with readers who might be contemplating getting into the industry.
1. Do you or your husband have any concerns about legal trouble in your business? I heard one former grower say Child Protective Services was a risk, and that sounds awful.
Anyone that was involved in the cannabis community before the passage of Initiative 502, Washington state’s legalization measure, are exceptionally risk-tolerant people. We had to be. You weighed the pros and the cons and the chances of getting in trouble and made a decision based on that.
We took that mentality into the regulated market, which is still high risk. Ask any bank, private lender or investment company; they would all tell you that cannabis is a high-risk industry. That said, we’re here anyway. You’re going to need to evaluate your own comfort level for risk and make a decision based on your needs. And to address your question about Child Protective Services, we’ve had a CPS plan since the beginning. They scare me more than anyone.
2. Do you anticipate any legal changes that would make you back out of this business?
As an entrepreneur, you should always have an exit strategy. That said, my entire life savings — and my mother’s house — is tied up in this business. Walking away is not an option; success is the only option. Have I made a plan that “if the government does this, I’m closing up shop”? No. We look at hurdles and we figure out how to overcome them. Furthermore, we’ve had options B and C planned out since our inception. If cannabis legalization fell through, there are other products that we could grow in our environmentally controlled rooms.
3. Do you have any trouble getting loans for a house or car? Have you had any trouble filing annual taxes due to the federal status of your business?
I was just told that you can get home loans if you’re a W-2 employee (I used to be loan originator), but that doesn’t help me as a business owner. We were smart enough to not name our company something that starts with “green” or “kush” so if our employees try to get loans, it’s not obvious that they work at a cannabis company. They let us know if they are applying for a loan, and we stick to calling ourselves a “wholesale nursery.”
As a business owner, no one is giving us a loan, but I anticipated that getting into this industry. Before we applied for our license more than five years ago, I upped all my credit cards to ridiculous amounts because I knew we would not qualify for lending for the foreseeable future.
As far as taxes, we have taxation without representation. The government is MORE than happy to take our money since it doesn’t let us write off normal business expenses the way businesses in other industries can.
I will mention that our investors, who do nothing except have their names on the loan, have also had multiple loan applications declined due to being an investor in a cannabis business. Plus, my non-cannabis companies have had their bank accounts shut down due to my involvement with the cannabis industry. Home loans, development loans, bank accounts … you name it. It’s infuriating.
4. Can you make a comfortable living? Do you also work at another job, to make it worthwhile?
That’s a complicated question. What’s comfortable? And are you working at a job you love because you believe in that company and see a future, so you’re willing to sacrifice what you want now for what you want in the long run? Or are you working for corporate cannabis, which cares about money over the plant? I can tell you that the highest paid employee we have at Trail Blazin’ makes 30% more than minimum wage. Most members of our team are paid barely over minimum wage (which is barely livable). We had dreams of paying everyone a living wage from the get-go, but the margins for growers are so, so small and the environment is brutal. Corporate greed is here, and they are doing everything they can to squash the cottage industry, take it all for themselves and then increase prices later. This is a tried and true business model by corporate America, and cannabis is no different.
Basically, if you’re getting into this industry to make money, it’s the wrong industry. We literally tell every person we interview that if they think they are coming here to pay off debt and make a bunch of money, they are at the wrong place. But if they are coming to Trail Blazin’ because they believe in our vision and want to change the world, because they value being happy over being wealthy, then the money will follow. We just don’t know when.
5. I’ve tried to make my way into work in the cannabis world, but I don’t get a response. I have tons of experience. How do I break into this market?
Are you part of an industry association like The Cannabis Alliance or the National Cannabis Industry Association? Do you regularly attend their events? This is the first question I ask anyone who wants my business because I want to know that they are putting money into associations that are fighting for the greater good, not just “green rushers” here to make a quick buck and care nothing about the plant or our culture. Are you attending cannabis events regularly? Like any industry, you need to immerse yourself in the culture if you want to compete. Are you involved? People hire people they know. You and thousands of other people are trying to get into this industry. What makes you stand out?
If you’re hellbent on getting into the industry, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone: do what you know. If you know marketing, then don’t be a gardener. If you know tech, then don’t start a retail store. Work toward your strengths.
6. My biggest concerns are always legal; I do everything by the book, and I can tell you do too. My second concern is making a living. Can I make a living in this industry?
If you figure out how to make a living in this industry, let me know, okay? As an entrepreneur, I have to believe, unequivocally, that everything will work out, even when all logic and reason and finances paint a different picture. Steve Jobs said it best: “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
I’m living on ideals, but I’ve given myself to the universe and I have an incredible support network. I have never worked so hard for so little. I have uncontrollably sobbed in the fetal position more times than I can count. I cried every day for years. Years. But when my children asked if I was okay, I told them, “We will win. It’s just not easy to change the world.”
Danielle Rosellison is the co-owner/operating manager of Trail Blazin’ Productions, a pesticide-free cannabis farm in Bellingham, Washington. She is also the president of The Cannabis Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of a vital, ethical and sustainable cannabis industry.