Entrepreneurs work to expand marijuana industry workforce

Curt Newton / Courtesy

A product table at Budtender Fight Club, a monthly seminar that educates locals interested in working in the marijuana industry.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas, and while many in the Valley are watching the second week of the NFL season or spending time with their families, dozens of locals are tucked away in a warehouse learning how to sell legal marijuana.

Budtender Fight Club, held monthly since February 2017, teaches locals interested in joining Nevada’s legal marijuana industry the tricks and trades of the business, helping their résumés stand out to owners of dispensaries, testing labs, and cultivation and production facilities.

“We’re here to help people get a job in the cannabis industry,” said Jason Sturtsman, a cannabis consultant and former manager at Las Vegas ReLeaf Dispensary. “We want to make sure when people come to Las Vegas, they’re getting a great customer service experience in marijuana, just like our other industries.”

Sturtsman, 44, began the four-hour seminars as a passion project to educate people about the benefits of working in cannabis, during the early stages of Nevada legalization. A former psychologist in the Clark County School District and stakeholder in Downtown Las Vegas nightclub Beauty Bar, Sturtsman continues the classes to combat what he calls a wide range of misinformation surrounding the plant. The seminar has grown to include Budtender Fight Clubs in Reno and Southern California, held monthly at the same time as the Las Vegas seminar.

For $25, Budtender Fight Club educates attendees on the science behind the more intricate elements of the plant—from concentrate extraction to distillation and emulsion. But on a more basic level, the class aims to teach that marijuana consumption doesn’t need to be done in extravagant portions.

“You don’t need as much cannabis as you think you do,” Sturtsman tells the room of 60 students, ranging in age from 21 to 67 years old. “Most people can get just as much benefit in low doses.”

Between PowerPoint slides of complex diagrams, figures and technical scientific terms, Sturtsman inserts comedians, a raffle and thousands of dollars in prize giveaways to make the Budtender Fight Club experience as entertaining as it is educational.

For attendees such as 27-year-old cultivation facility trimmer Samantha Buni, learning the technology associated with cannabis extraction is the next step in what she hopes will be a long career, helping her transition into a different sector of the industry. Buni first attended a Budtender Fight Club event focused on cultivation last year, and her certificate helped her land her first marijuana job.

For others, such as Mark Balfe-Taylor, a yoga studio professor, and Katrina Reene, a sales professional, the first hour of a recent Sunday class was a completely new topic. Both Balfe-Taylor, 45, and Reene, 42, said they discovered Budtender Fight Club on social media and attended “to see what’s out there.”

Balfe-Taylor, who has a chemistry background, said he picked the cultivation-specific workshop to explore a future career in a growing lab or testing facility.

“I just wanted to see where the movement is heading and how they’re educating people,” Balfe-Taylor said.

With as many as 42 new recreational dispensaries set to open in the next 12 months, and additional cultivation and production facilities and possible testing labs on the way after that, 4,000 new marijuana jobs could hit the Nevada economy in the next two years, adding to the more than 7,000 jobs already created, industry members say. Sturtsman reminded attendees that his workshop was just one step in the process of earning a job in legal cannabis.

“You’re not going to get hired just because you have a smiling face and you like to smoke pot,” Sturtsman said. “That’s why it’s called Budtender Fight Club. You’ve got to fight to get a job in this industry because it’s not going to be given to you.”