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Job: Master grower

The role: Responsible for overseeing the growth and cultivation of cannabis plants for licensed marijuana producers in Canada.

“They are really involved in the growing process, from seeding to cloning, transplanting, doing nutrient management, defoliation, pest management, and then following any standard operating procedures or growing protocols that are in place,” explained Alison McMahon, chief executive of Cannabis at Work, a Canadian cannabis industry staffing agency. “Typically they would have knowledge of different growing methods and growing mediums like soils and micronutrients.”

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Cannabis production facilities typically follow a master production schedule that dictates what quantities of which strains are at what point in the production process. It is the master grower’s responsibility to produce that schedule and ensure timelines are being met. Depending on the size and license type held by the facility, master growers might also be responsible for overseeing and managing a team of growers.

“The master grower would really be moving throughout the facility, making sure that the grow team is on track for their duties,” said Ms. McMahon. “The master grower really has an eye an all of those functions, and is in that supervisory capacity to make sure all these different processes – pest control, nutrient management, client care, etc. – are happening so that the production schedule is on track.”

Salary: According to the 2018 Salary Survey conducted by Cannabis at Work, the median minimum salary of master growers in Canada is $60,000 annually, with a mid-career median of $77,500 per year. The most experienced growers earn a median of approximately $90,000 annually.

Education: As an industry that has operated in the black and grey markets for generations, many of the country’s master growers have no formal education in the field, although Ms. McMahon says standards are gradually being established.

“It really varies,” she said. “We will see clients that want a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and if that's the case they would be typically looking for somebody with a horticulture, plant science, plant biology or a general science degree as a preference.”

While educational requirements are dependent on employer preferences, Ms. McMahon says that some educational institutions, such as Ontario’s Niagara College, have begun offering formal education in commercial cannabis production.

“Over time, as more students come out of that program, it will become more of the norm to require that type of education,” she said. “That's not the present-day scenario, but I think that's what we'll see as a trend.”

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Job prospects: With the recent supply issues suffered by the Canadian cannabis industry, Ms. McMahon says she expects to see a lot more cultivation licenses issued to new facilities in the coming years, which will result in more demand for master growers. “A lot of companies also have expansion plans under way, so there will be plenty of need for skilled growers over the next number of years,” she said.

Challenges: Those that are accustomed to operating in the black market, or come from other botanical industries or production facilities, often struggle with the level of regulation and oversight in the recreational cannabis industry.

“People who are really passionate about growing can sometimes be a little disheartened by the highly structured environment of one of these cultivators,” said Ms. McMahon. “If their first love is the plant, they may find that the very structured environment, the amount of regulatory compliance needed and therefore the amount of document control and tracking is not always how they want to spend their time.”

Why they do it: After generations of prohibition, many Canadians are passionate about participating in Canada’s newest industry. “A lot of these people have seen the positive benefits that cannabis can have in people’s lives, often from a medical perspective, so they have a lot of passion for creating a high-quality product,” said Ms. McMahon.

Misconceptions: Despite its legal status, Ms. McMahon says the industry is still struggling to rid itself of negative associations and long-standing stereotypes.

“A lot of times we’re talking about highly educated people who have a background in plant science and a lot of experience with cannabis genetics,” she said. “My experience is that these are professionals and highly passionate people that typically do not fit the ‘stoner’ stereotype."

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