Landing Colorado’s Pot Jobs Requires Cash Upfront

Looking to work for a medical or retail dispensary in Colorado? Cannabis business owners aren’t the only ones who get to pay licensing fees to the Colorado Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division; employees of both medical and retail dispensaries must pay application fees for the privilege to wear state-issued identification badges. The badges are backed up by fingerprints and background checks, but for the people looking for jobs created by legalized marijuana, it takes money to make money.

MED badge applications aren’t cheap, as the agency’s fee schedule shows. The MED badges also don’t make it any easier for marijuana businesses to find employees. Colorado requires dispensary workers to hold one of three types of badges. Recreational marijuana business employees must hold a retail MED badge. For medical dispensary employees, there are two types of badges: support employee badges and key employee badges.

The support badges are for employees without any business decision-making responsibilities; budtenders are an example of this type of employee, according to MED. Key MED badges are for employees who are more like managers, who make decisions affecting the way the business runs.

According to Ryan Fox, CEO of The Grass Station, the MED badges required for marijuana shop employees doesn’t make finding workers any easier. Thanks to the restrictions, Fox said people who apply for jobs at The Grass Station must either have a license already, or at least have the application in process.

“The badge requirements make it exceptionally difficult to properly staff these businesses,” Fox told MJINews. “There are around 2,000 licenses issued for different marijuana businesses in Colorado, yet only 22,000 [MED] badges have ever been issued.” Furthermore, of that total number of badges, Fox said only about 60 percent are currently valid.

“Doing the math on that, you’ll easily see the shortage of possible staff,” Fox said. “This problem will likely never get better in Colorado, because as the legalization progresses through the country new states that come online will not have as strict of regulations regarding employees, creating a further vacuum of potential employees.” People looking for marijuana jobs might look at other states than Colorado, where hiring is more straightforward.

In terms of these licenses, there is a one-way door separating the two branches of the cannabis industry. A retail badge doesn’t authorize someone to be a medical dispensary employee, but the medical badges can be used in a retail establishment.

All three applications start with a personal information section, asking applicants to provide, beyond address and phone number, info about physical appearance, including details on scars and tattoos.

The next section of all three applications asks a series of questions designed to let the applicant know whether or not they have a shot at obtaining a license. The questions are yes or no; a yes answer to any question in this section means an applicant will be disqualified. In other words, if an applicant answers yes to any question in this section, he or she would be better off saving his or her money by not submitting the application.

From there, the applications go in different directions. The medical and retail support MED badge applications question the applicant’s financial history. There is a slight difference between the MED support badges for retail and medical; the medical application requires a repayment agreement as part of a yes answer to any of the financial questions. The financial questions essentially ask whether the applicant owes any governmental debt or child support.

At this point, the key badge application asks military and criminal history questions. The financial questions come later in the key MED badge application and take up an entire page. In addition to the questions about debt and child support, key badge applicants must also answer questions about their business background and licenses.

According to a May 2014 article from Vox, citing a study by the Marijuana Industry Group, Colorado’s marijuana industry had a workforce numbering around 10,000, and was only growing from there. Colorado currently has 357 retail marijuana stores and 503 dispensaries, according to the most recent list of MED licensed facilities. Furthermore, there are 751 licensed medical cultivation operations and 455 retail cultivation operations. As for edible product manufacturers, there are 175 medical and 120 retail. Lastly, there are 39 MED licensed retail marijuana testing facilities in Colorado.

There is a bit of overlap with some of those licenses, since some of the edible manufacturers make both medical and retail products. But considering the cost of the required MED badges for the multiple employees at these operations, the administrative side must be well-funded.

How much do the MED badges cost for marijuana business employees? Support employee badges used to cost $75 for both retail and medical; now, they cost $150. Key employee badges cost $300. All licenses must be renewed every two years, and the fees for that are $75 for support employees and $200 for key employees.

In essence, to work in the marijuana industry in Colorado, employees must submit a wealth of personal information to the state, be subject to a background check and fingerprinting as part of the vetting process, and they must pay for this experience every two years. The applications are lengthy and invasive, and civil libertarians would be right to show concern. The data in the applications is being collected in connection with an industry that is still illegal at the federal level in the United States.

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