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Veterans in Unexpected Roles in Cannabis

Jay Czarkowski Canna Advisors

Veterans of all ranks and branches can be found in impactful (and sometimes unexpected) roles within the cannabis industry. 

In our own business, veteran involvement dates back to 2009—the early days of Colorado legalization—with our dispensary having three veterans on our small staff, in addition to veteran ownership. Today, our consulting firm includes Founding Partner Jay Czarkowski, an Air Force veteran, and Russ Hudson, a US Navy veteran. We’ve worked with numerous clients in states across the US with similar veteran diversity, and we have seen clients across the country build veteran-focused elements into their business plan — from hiring veterans to hosting educational events focused on veteran needs.

Applying Time-Tested Skills to an Emerging Industry

At a basic level, the skills that veterans bring to the cannabis industry are core to military service: a mindset and mettle that fuel entrepreneurship and leadership. The biggest skills learned in the military, of being able to overcome adversity and applying strong will to succeed and achieve, are of stellar importance in an industry with as much risk and uncertainty as cannabis. Direct translation: Reach the objective. Complete the mission.

For veterans who were in leadership roles, the ability to lead a team translates directly to operational roles in the cannabis industry. The industry, however, also provides sometimes-overlooked roles for those not as familiar with operations of cannabis cultivation, processing, and dispensary businesses.

Security & Compliance

With the lack of banking access and strict regulations, cannabis becomes a business of high-stakes security and scrutinized compliance. Having the right team members in these roles is an issue that cannabis entrepreneurs must address early in their planning and can play into advantages when competing for a license. For these very reasons, we often see Directors of Security and Directors of Compliance with military backgrounds.

Tech & Engineering

Additionally, many veterans are highly trained in technology, including IT and systems management. Other soldiers or sailors in mechanical or electrical engineering roles are excellent candidates to run environmental controls, HVAC, and similar systems as part of cultivation, manufacturing, or even testing laboratory applications.

Use as Medicine for Self and Fellow Veterans

The fact that veterans are often turning to cannabis to treat military service-related PTSD and other medical conditions is an exceptional segue into also working professionally in the industry. Many veteran cannabis entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to help other veterans in various capacities — with jobs, business opportunities, and safe access to medicine.

Work with Veteran Clients

We have worked with veteran clients in markets from New Jersey and New York to Maryland and Texas, and even in Hawaii. These clients have served in all branches and at all ranks, including Army and Marine Corp medical personnel and one client that had three high-ranking, decorated officers on their team, including one whose Director of Security played a highly visible role in the 9/11 response.

We’ve seen some veteran clients with agriculture or horticulture experience open cultivation facilities, and those who want to directly interact with fellow veterans go the dispensary route. One of our East Coast clients hosts educational workshops specifically for medical marijuana patients to help them discover the right products. And, we’ve seen military energy, science, and analytics backgrounds play well for clients who are opening processing facilities that require the use of extraction processes and precision equipment in a hazardous environment.

Cannabis Legislation Potential for 2022

Federal level legislation is hard to speculate, but a positive development is bi-partisan movement of proposed legislation with the latest republican-sponsored bill.

At the state level, the biggest impact of 2022 is the launch of what will inarguably be the largest regional industry in the US — the Northeast market. The three brand new adult use markets of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will serve a population that is close to that of California. Veterans will have significant opportunities in these markets with some programs providing special consideration for veterans applying for a license.

Other states to watch in 2022: Missouri and Arkansas for adult-use. For new medical programs, we’ll be watching the Kansas legislature, the roll out in Alabama and holdout states like Idaho, North Dakota, and Nebraska. Another significant story would be to finally see movement in Texas, so we’ll be watching the landscape there.

Outlook for Veterans

Between a majority of the country having some level of legalization, more states launching adult-use programs, and federal legalization looking to be an eventual reality, veterans stand to benefit even more from business ownership and employment opportunities. At the bare minimum, this will allow more veterans in need to have access to medicine, as more regulated cannabis programs are launched nationwide. With creativity at the state program level being met with earnest pursuit by entrepreneurial veterans, the sky is the limit for veterans looking to make a name for themselves in this growing industry.

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Jay Czarkowski is an influential cannabis entrepreneur, investor, and advocate. A well-connected and respected industry insider, Jay and his team have helped build cannabis businesses in 31 states and internationally. As Founding Partner at Canna Advisors, Jay forges new avenues in the legal cannabis market with informed agility and strategic sophistication. A foremost authority on real estate development and cultivation design, Jay has held a commercial general contractor license since 2002. Working on multiple cannabis design projects throughout the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, Jay focuses on highly automated, sustainable facilities with a niche in the greenhouse sector. Known for applying proven business tactics to unchartered territory, Jay has created a diverse vendor network at Canna Advisors with high-profile partners and serves on the board of multiple cannabis businesses. With a decade of regulatory experience as a consultant and award-winning operator, Jay has paved the way for innovative startups and technologies. He is dedicated to building the industry through successful and inclusive state programs, pairing grassroots advocacy with a global vision. In constant pursuit of new business horizons, Jay looks forward to shaping cannabis policy and growing the market internationally. Jay is a Founding Member of the NCIA, a sustaining member of SSDP, and a Lifetime Member of the Arcview Investment Group. In 2016, he received the Arcview Group’s Outstanding Member award for his career service to the industry.