What Canada’s Legalization of Cannabis Means for Tech Jobs

By BrainStation October 22, 2018

The legalization of Cannabis in Canada has planted the seed for an explosion of new jobs across many industries, and tech is certainly no exception.

Deloitte forecast that legal cannabis could represent a $22.6 billion industry and add 150,000 jobs over the next several years, and with expectations that Canadians will spend as much as $7 billion on cannabis in 2019, it’s not unreasonable to expect even more budding entrepreneurs and companies entering the market in search of opportunity.

For job-seekers curious about the cannabis industry, the pastures have never been greener.

“Saying that there’s opportunity doesn’t even scratch the surface,” said John Prentice, president and CEO of Ample Organics, Canada’s leading seed-to-sale software. “We’re building a whole new industry.”

And talented tech workers, certainly, will play a major role in that.

“If anything, the cannabis industry is becoming very tech-heavy, because the companies are well-capitalized, they can invest in technology, and they’re brand new – these facilities were just built and they’ve got the latest and greatest in there,” Prentice pointed out.

“For everything from using machine learning to figure out harvesting algorithms and better ways to produce the product, to the manufacturing cycle, through shipping the product out the door in an efficient way, and all the customer experience that comes after that – these are all blank canvases and a huge opportunity.”

Here are some of the new tech jobs being created by this new, potentially massive industry.

An eCommerce Enterprise Like No Other

In Ontario – the country’s biggest province and largest cannabis market – marijuana sales are still locked behind a screen, limited to online transactions until April. In the rest of the country, online sales are also expected to represent a major and lucrative portion of cannabis purchases, as they have legally for years.

Last year, 33,000 kilograms of cannabis were legally shipped to 168,000 patients across the country. That number will of course rise dramatically now that customers around Canada can order product directly from government-run websites and, in some provinces, private online retailers.

“Just about every role imaginable within ecommerce – from development to people handling customer service to the analysis side to product managers, all of these aspects – is applicable to that business,” Prentice said.

Specifically, there are large opportunities in:

  • Web development: As more and more retailers and other cannabis-related industries enter the fray, they’ll all need responsive, accessible, and attractive digital products. But Prentice notes that his industry seems to pay special attention to this area. “Within the cannabis industry, web development and digital design is really, really popular,” he said. “There are a lot of digital assets these guys are building and they need help doing it.”
  • Data analytics and SEO: With so many freshly launched or expanding companies entering a new and competitive field, thorough analytics reporting will be crucial to monitor early progress and opportunities. So too will leveraging SEO to again gain prominence in a crowded atmosphere.
  • UX design: The cannabis industry hasn’t always had a positive reputation for UX Design; Fast Company wondered in 2016 why we are “stuck in the Cheech & Chong era when it comes to user experience?” But with a sudden abundance of options in the marketplace, cannabis companies can no longer afford to be cavalier about their user experience.

Retail Set to Explode

It probably goes without saying that the most employment opportunities in retail, with government-operated and privately run pot shops popping up in almost every province.

And yes, those stores will need clerks – but they will need much more than that.

“We often look at retail as people standing at counters selling things, but that’s not what retail is,” Prentice said. “It’s a complete industry. There are IT professionals, software engineers, product managers, all sorts of people doing interesting things in the retail sector.

“There’s a huge opportunity for tech in retail right now.”

Digital Marketers With Special Savvy

While we covered the need for specific digital marketing skills and specialties while discussing eCommerce, it’s worth circling back to make one critical point: marketing cannabis is not like marketing any other product. It’s harder.

Bill C-45 – or the Cannabis Act – has clear and quite restrictive rules around marketing cannabis. Marketers aren’t allowed to make false or misleading claims of course, and they also can’t create an erroneous impression about the quality, concentration, composition, potency, purity, merit, or health risks of their products.

The legislation goes even further, prohibiting the marketing of cannabis in any way that could be appealing to young people, that could encourage its consumption, that depict a person, character or animal, or that communicates price or distribution information.

“Those restrictions are very heavy. It’s basically: ‘Don’t promote it to an end user and don’t induce them to buy it.’ It’s almost like the government is wagging their finger, saying you should feel guilty for buying this,” said Prentice with a laugh.

“Companies have to be very creative and proactive in finding ways to work within the regulations and still provide a customer outreach experience.”

Start-up Shake-up

As we look to the future, most figure the truly exponential growth is yet to come.

“I do think we’re at the tip of the iceberg,” said Alison McMahon, founder and CEO of Cannabis at Work. “I think that we are going to see a lot of job creation ahead. Once we’re six months or a year post-legalization, it’s going to be really interesting to see what the consumer demand in Canada really is, and I suspect there will be a number of businesses that will emerge as we come to understand the products Canadians want.”

For one thing, the industry is ripe for innovation and ambitious entrepreneurship. Even south of the border there’s been evidence of the ascension of the “weedpreneur,” with companies including Casa Verde Capital, tracking platform Leaklink, and point-of-sale company Greenbits raising major funding.

Ample Organics, of course, is a great example of a homegrown success. The Toronto startup has become Canada’s No. 1 cannabis software platform, a complete business solution that helps users manage everything from growing and production, to client management to sales, packaging and fulfillment, and finally to quality assurance and reporting, all in a system built for Canadian regulations. The platform has processed more than one million orders for 70 percent of Canada’s licensed producers, amounting to more than 33 million grams of cannabis.

Prentice thinks other similarly creative entrepreneurs will soon be drawn to the industry, which will only further the rise in cannabis careers.

“I’m trying to emphasize as much as possible that the field is wide-open for entrepreneurs,” he said. “That’s a really exciting thing, because that doesn’t happen every day.”