A dope career path for finance professionals

Cannabis is a growing field—and founders are sorely in need of finance help.
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Alex Castro

· 5 min read

If the Wild West nature of the startup world appeals to you, but you want to work with something more tangible than software, you might want to consider a career in cannabis finance.

Legal cannabis is a booming industry: An estimated $38.4 billion in medical and recreational cannabis was sold in the US in 2023, and that figure is projected to rise to $56.9 billion by 2028. The industry has grown an average of 29.1% per year between 2018 and 2023, according to IBISWorld.

“You’re going to see the birth of a new industry in your career maybe once or twice like this at this scale,” Andrew Hunzicker told CFO Brew.

Hunzicker is the CEO and founder of DOPE CFO, a network of finance and accounting professionals that serve the cannabis industry. He’s naturally going to be bullish on cannabis. But the facts support his claim.

Support for legal cannabis in the US has never been higher: 70% of Americans now favor it, according to Gallup. Almost 75% of Americans live in a jurisdiction where medical or recreational cannabis is legal, and ~50% have tried cannabis products. Legalization efforts continue, with Florida voting on a measure this November. And the FDA recently began the process to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule III drug. When the rescheduling becomes official, cannabis enterprises will no longer be subject to Section 280E of the tax code, which prevents them from taking some business tax deductions.

Smokin’ financial talent needed: Cannabis businesses are sorely in need of help from talented financial professionals, Hunzicker said. Many are startups. In those cases, “we’re going to be helping with everything from raising capital to setting up their software to making sure they’re complying” with state regulations, Hunzicker said.

But even for more established companies, cannabis accounting is complex. “This is still a very immature industry. It’s still developing,” Daniel McCarthy, a DOPE CFO-certified advisor and principal of accounting firm Blue Ledger, told CFO Brew. Each of the US states and jurisdictions where cannabis is legal has its own regulations, he pointed out.

Plus, cannabusinesses are often “multi-verticals” consisting of farms, dispensaries, and/or processing plants, Hunzicker said, meaning finance teams might need to be conversant with agricultural, retail, or manufacturing accounting.

A groovy career: Careers in cannabis finance can be very rewarding, said McCarthy, a former IRS agent. “Adult [recreational] use or medicinal use, it doesn’t matter. This plant is natural and it’s bringing a lot of relief to people,” said McCarthy, who said he knows many people who use it to help alleviate pain from medical conditions. “This is a great industry to get into because you can visually see the impact you’re having in your job,” he said.

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Cannabis entrepreneurs are a passionate lot, and they’re fun to work with, Hunzicker said. “They’re colorful,” he said. Some are the traditional suit-and-tie type, he said, and then you’ll meet others who’ve “got a $5 million farm but they look like a skateboarder.”

That said, as the field is emerging, it isn’t the best fit for everyone. It’s well-suited to those who are “excited by putting out fires” and are “able to lean into the uncertainty” and “figure it out as [they] go along,” McCarthy said.

In the weed(s): And there are hurdles to contend with. Only around 10% of the banks in the US are willing to work with cannabis companies, and major credit card companies like Mastercard and Visa won’t do business with them, either. That may change if cannabis becomes legal on the federal level, but for now, “there’s still a ton of cash in the industry,” Hunzicker said.

Since financial institutions are reluctant to get involved with cannabis, the sector hasn’t benefited from automation to the same degree that other industries have. Expense management tools for cannabis aren’t well-developed yet, McCarthy said, and the industry uses “a lot of spreadsheets” and manual processes, he said. “You need to process significant numbers of ACH transactions to pay your bills.”

Cannabis is not that difficult of a field for finance professionals to break into “because there’s so much need,” McCarthy said. What “takes a little bit of work,” he said, “is developing those relationships.” Both he and Hunzicker recommend going to events and meeting founders and the people who fund them.

It’s “very much an industry where trust is readily important,” McCarthy said. “Cannapreneurs,” as he calls them, want to know that you’re passionate, that you support entrepreneurs, and that you’re interested in the field for the right reasons.

The cannabis industry isn’t a place to “get rich quick,” he cautioned. Growth is still several years out and is dependent on slow-moving legislation. However, he predicts that cannabis will eventually become legal on a federal level, and, once that happens, “the amount of capital that’s going to flood into this industry is going to be exciting.”

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.