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What to Expect (And Not) When Hiring Legacy Cannabis Growers

As states and countries continue to decriminalize cannabis, formerly illicit growers will be seeking work with legal cannabis companies.

This can present a win-win for both the grower and the hiring company.

Cultivators who leave the illicit market can continue their work without fear of retribution from law enforcement. At the same time, new cannabis companies can jump-start their success by employing a head grower with decades of marijuana experience.

But finding a perfect match isn’t always easy.

Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned from hiring (and firing!) many growers throughout my horticultural career:

What to expect

Knowledge of genetics

Nearly all legacy growers share this trait; they can recall every cultivar they’ve ever grown and the lineage that made up those genetics. Are you wondering which varieties you should grow? Look no further than the person being interviewed across from you. Chances are, they’re a wealth of genetic wisdom.

Knowledge of growing techniques

Experienced legacy growers have tried every cultivation method out there or have been exposed to it through close associations with other cultivators. Organic production? Check. Hydroponic systems? Check. Some grow technique that you’ve never heard of? Check. Any way that you plan to grow, they’ve likely done it.

Knowledge of what sells

Mediocre cannabis won’t sell, and it’s no way to run a profitable business. Often, the secret to growing great cannabis lies in the details. Legacy growers know what it takes to create remarkable cannabis flower, from the right environmental setpoints to the best post-harvest techniques. Hiring someone with this knowledge can help circumvent the learning curve that a novice grower would likely struggle with.

What not to expect

Details of previous illicit activity

How a legacy grower got involved in the industry, who they worked with, where they grew, how much they grew, and how they moved product is sensitive information and irrelevant to your company. It has nothing to do with their capacity as your head grower. It’s akin to asking someone in an interview if they have kids, are married, or what their sexual orientation is. Just don’t do it!

What to avoid at all costs

Hiring for cannabis growing experience shouldn’t come at the expense of acquiring undesirable traits that you wouldn’t accept in any other industry.

If the person you are interviewing expresses any of the following, wrap up the interview right away. It’s better to continue the hunt for the right head grower than hire the wrong person “just for now.”

No resume

Not having a long work history outside of cannabis is one thing, but not having a resume at all is an entirely different matter. I’ve had job candidates contact me saying they’re interested in the position, but they don’t have a resume. My answer? Write one!

Would you really offer a six-figure salary to someone that doesn’t have the ingenuity to learn how to write a resume or find someone to help them write one? No thanks.

Poor communication skills

If a job candidate can’t hold an intelligent conversation with you during a 60-minute interview, how will they effectively manage employees, professionally communicate with upper management, or speak confidently with investors? Quick answer: they won’t.

Lots of ego

You want a head grower that checks their ego at the door, or better yet, leaves it at home. Cultivators that act like they know everything behave this way out of insecurity. If they’re loud, boastful, and arrogant, they know people will be too intimidated to contradict them.

I’ve worked for greenhouse growers in their 60s that were still learning how to best manage their crop, and this is the same kind of trait you want in your head grower. Lots of experience, but humble enough to know there’s always more to learn.


If a grower won’t share how they grow or plan to run your operation, show them the door. These growers mistakenly believe their way is the only way, and the best method of guarding their secrets is not to share them with anyone. These growers insist on doing everything themselves, and they keep the entire production program in their heads. Can you guess what happens when they quit?

Bringing their crew as a condition of employment

It’s not uncommon for growers to ask to bring along their buddies or a crew they have previously worked with. Don’t allow this. It creates an unfair dynamic for other employees who aren’t part of this clique. Furthermore, if you terminate your head grower, half of your cultivation team leaves, too.

Legacy growers can be a valuable addition to any commercial cannabis operation, but just because you’re dealing with someone from the illicit world doesn’t mean that responsible hiring practices don’t apply.

Approach your interviews with the same expectations that you would in any other industry, and you just may find the secret to your success is sitting in the chair across from you.

Ryan DouglasRyan Douglas

Ryan Douglas

Ryan Douglas helps businesses cultivate a profitable future in the cannabis industry. He is the founder of Ryan Douglas Cultivation, LLC and author of From Seed to Success: How to Launch a Great Cannabis Cultivation Business in Record TimeRyan has worked in commercial horticulture for 25 years and specializes in legal cannabis start-ups.

Before entering the cannabis industry, Ryan spent 15 years as a commercial greenhouse grower of ornamental and edible crops, growing up to 600,000 plants annually. As Master Grower from 2013 to 2016, he directed cultivation for Tweed Inc., the flagship subsidiary of Canopy Growth Corporation. Ryan now offers cultivation advisory services to cannabis operators worldwide, and he can be reached through his website,

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. A resume is only as good as the information it contains. In seeking employment I have no problem giving a potential client/employer my cannabiography in the form of a curriculum vitae. My issue is that even though most of my claims are verifiable, I have brought so many new techniques and technologies to cannabis culture, that people think I am making it up. I do have the advantage of being able to point back to my federal criminal history to prove that I was growing at scale long before most folks even started growing in a closet. (I was taken down for the highest plant count (12,000+) in Phase One of Operation Green Merchant. This was a lot of plants in 1989.

  2. I played ‘early on’ legally in Colorado with license for both medical and rec. Your offering here is pragmatic and real, in my/our experience; and to be followed from my whole career in business development leading up to and into legal MJ. The blending or attempt to blend legal business acumen to legacy growth, production, or sales is not simple or easy. In our experience, that culture blend of behavior habits is the hardest part of the industry! Thanks for your offering!

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