When I was on active military duty in the US, Korea, and Iraq from 2004 to 2011, my fellow military veterans and I were trained to lead through uncertain times. We were conditioned to perform under intense pressure to complete the mission set in front of us.
I learned early in my career about the impact of uncertainty, ambiguity, and high risk. And no career could have been a better training ground for becoming a cannabis entrepreneur.
From the very beginning in our military journey, soldiers are required to take on new challenges and concepts and apply them in real-world situations. Former military personnel have the unique ability to learn in unconventional environments.
Veterans are trained to use critical thinking skills and teamwork to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks, like engineering a way to get running water in a desert, moving supplies into harsh terrain, or assembling a defensive fighting position.
That’s why we need more military leaders to transition into the cannabis industry. With the unique skills veterans possess, like reliable work ethic, leadership know-how, and logistical prowess, we provide uniquely valuable assets that can help the fledgeling cannabis industry thrive.
Today, more and more veterans are interested in the cannabis space because of the plant’s ability to alleviate both physical and emotional scars of war.
Additionally, veteran unemployment can be offset by cannabis job opportunities in a field serving fellow vets trying to acclimate to civilian life. The legal cannabis industry provides an appropriate and lucrative opportunity for veterans looking to apply their combat and leadership experiences in an innovative professional setting, for several reasons.
Credibility for veterans
First, since cannabis is such a new industry, there isn’t a proven road map to guarantee success in the business. This is an ideal environment for out-of-the-box thinking and creative entrepreneurs.
Women-led businesses are championed by their peer groups. Minority-owned businesses play an important part in improving representation for more voices and consumers in different markets. In the veteran community, we can be advocates for other veterans who cannot speak for themselves.
Veterans have a unique opportunity to challenge archaic stereotypes about cannabis users being apathetic and undisciplined. Cannabis has been used responsibly by a growing number of veterans to treat conditions like chronic pain, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
Due to its status as a Schedule I substance, there have been limited medical studies on its efficacy, but a recent FDA-approved study examining the effectiveness of cannabis use to treat veteran PTSD is helping to create significant momentum to further legitimize the industry. We can be part of a health and wellness movement that positively impacts our own community, and which contributes to helping veterans heal mentally and physically from combat and service roles. Elevating the visibility of veteran entrepreneurs in this space demonstrates our value and potential after our time in active duty, to both veteran and civilian communities.
Speak the truth
Accountability is a critical part of military training. We are taught to speak up and tell the truth in every circumstance, with the understanding that our word and integrity are iron-clad. While the majority of the industry supports their products and services with factual information, there is still a lot of misinformation promulgated by companies that over-promise deliverables or exaggerate the effects.
Veterans have the opportunity to utilize their fact-based approach to develop the legal cannabis space and bolster consumer and regulatory trust in the industry.
Leadership and motivation
Leadership is a skill soldiers are taught on a daily basis in the military. We are trained not only to give direction but to also motivate and inspire our fellow service members. In the cannabis industry, whether you are a grower, a retailer, or a technology developer, you will have a staff and a brand to maintain.
Employees can be your greatest champions if you inspire them to operate at their highest capacity. In an industry that still gets scrutinized as a newcomer in the legal retail space, it is essential that employees take pride in the product they are creating. Their enthusiasm will overflow into the brand and reinforce customer confidence in the product and culture.
The military is well known for its standard operating procedures, or SOPs, which cover everything from basic firearm maintenance to counter-insurgent tactics. Attention to detail is a critical skill almost every veteran will maintain after their service.
At one point during my military career, I was responsible for having at least two Apache helicopters patrolling the skies of Baghdad, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I was literally making life and death decisions, every day.
These experiences are familiar to most military veterans. We are well equipped to handle highly technical, complicated and potentially high-stakes situations like managing supply chains, overseeing fundraising, and operating million-dollar equipment.
In the cannabis industry, there are sophisticated logic and operational complexities due to the market being so highly regulated. Using SOPs, veterans know how to bring efficiencies to hard problems like getting products onto shelves on time, and ensuring the product is tested by a reputable laboratory. Tactical execution is a veteran’s strength.
Focus on the bigger picture
Your company is just one small piece of the puzzle. In the blockbuster film Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks’s character leads his platoon behind enemy lines to find private Ryan, whose brothers died in battle, granting him the freedom to return home. In one scene, the group comes across a German soldier near a radio tower. Hanks wants to secure the area, but his platoon argues that it is too much of a risk. Their mission is to find private Ryan! But Hanks reminds them that they are ultimately there for the larger objective: to win the war.
Veterans know that the mission of the cannabis industry isn’t just to make money. The overarching goal is to improve the wellbeing of people through the power of the plant and its products. Veterans share a common desire to work toward a goal bigger than themselves, and we are trained to strategize and pick the battles that help us succeed as a unified front.
If the cannabis industry can garner more support from veterans behind new projects and existing brands, the future of the business can be safeguarded for years to come.