‘A Safe Place to Work’: Q&A with Jushi’s Clifton Lambert, Sarah Harned and Nichole Upshaw
As vertically integrated multi-state operator Jushi expands—it currently has facilities in Florida, Nevada, Colorado, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania—it aims to keep diversity a priority.
The Boca Raton, Fla.-based operation was ranked No. 2 in Cannabis Dispensary and the Best Company Group’s “Best Companies to Work For – Dispensaries” awards program. It was also ranked No. 4 in Cannabis Business Times and the Best Company Group’s “Best Companies to Work For – Cultivators” program. Jushi answered in responding to the “Best Companies” survey that it employs practices to recruit and retain employees from different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.
Cannabis Dispensary caught up with members of Jushi’s human resources team to discuss hiring diverse candidates and retaining them as employees. These HR team members include Nichole Upshaw, VP of human resources; Clifton Lambert, senior manager of human resources; and Sarah Harned, HR generalist at Jushi’s Beyond/Hello group of dispensaries in Pennsylvania.
Cannabis Dispensary: What do you see as the cannabis industry’s role in destigmatizing cannabis and employment opportunities in cannabis among communities of color, where people may be wary of entering the industry or using cannabis due to being disproportionately impacted by prohibition?
Clifton Lambert: I think just overall, that’s really our focus as part of being a cannabis company. We want to make sure that we’re looking for individuals in those communities. We advertise specifically to those areas and we also, in the interview process, focus on people who may have had a background in that area and we make it known that, ‘Hey, it’s actually okay to come into this industry.’ Sarah is doing more with the day to day from an interview perspective with those individuals. What’s your opinion there, Sarah?
Sarah Harned: I can tell you that we advertise the job postings we do have on many different platforms so they reach a bunch of different folks.
We have gone to a couple career fairs, one specifically for cannabis opportunities, and it was the [Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities’ Cannabis Opportunities Conference]. They specifically target marginalized communities.
CL: To add to that, just more on the list standpoint—one, targeted recruitment is one piece that we focus on. Two would be company training that surrounds diversity. At the end of , myself and Sarah went to the stores and … we did this all over the company but mainly for the retail staff: We included a large portion of diversity training and not only focused on the communities of color, but just in general, underrepresented individuals altogether—people of color, LGBTQ communities, looking at ways how we can make those individuals feel more comfortable, not only by thinking of and considering the things that you’re saying to individuals but promoting an understanding that, ‘Hey, this is a safe place to work, and we want you to be comfortable.’ That really matters to the company in general.
CD: What do you think makes a company an inclusive place to work, and why should blacks, Latinos, Latinas and members of the LGBTQ+ communities consider working for Jushi?
CL: I think from the get-go—our president, Erich [Mauff]—he’s from South Africa, and diversity is really a big thing in those communities. We really wanted to, from the top down, try to build a company that had diversity all the way through. Within the cannabis industry, there’s limited people who have experience in this industry just because it’s so new. I think that it’s just getting out in the community and helping people understand what we do and how this company formed and what our values and goals are and that everyone is equal at the end of the day. We promote that open-door policy to encourage people to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, and we listen to those things and we take action.
I think that those voices that you mentioned—they’re very not well-represented in many companies, and a lot of companies have really taken that action to put it out there and say, ‘Hey, we support these communities.’ And that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing just that. We’re putting that message out and making it known across our company. And again, through that word of mouth aspect, we’re putting that out there into the community and through these job fairs that Sarah’s attending, and we’ll continue to do more outreach like that in the future to really draw in a more diverse community.
CD: How does Jushi help minority employees acquire or expand upon intergenerational wealth that may otherwise be difficult for them to obtain and retain?
CL: 401(k) is a great offering [of ours]. About 27% of the companies in cannabis actually offer 401(k), so us actually having all of those normalized benefits in the marijuana industry is pretty cool, first off.
We do have the opportunity for individuals to purchase stock in the company, and it’s a nice part about being a public company. It gives the employees the opportunity to invest in the company. From there, that opens up the door to wealth. I’ve learned myself, coming into this company, I wasn’t very familiar with stocks and things like that. Being of the community of color myself, that’s something that you don’t know much about. It’s just really not talked about in those communities. I think that when we did the training and we went around to all the different locations, that was a part of it. We talked about stocks and how you can have ownership in the company and what you need to do to be able to purchase those stocks. I think that went over very well. We saw people actually asking questions and showing interest in the company, and I think it gives the employee a different type of buy-in when you can say, ‘Hey, I actually have a little bit of ownership in the company.’ And it’s very affordable right now as well, so [we’re] encouraging people to take advantage of the stocks while they’re at the price they are now. Hopefully in the future, we all do a good job to pay off wealth for everyone. So, that’s been really big amongst the staff to have that opportunity, especially those individuals coming from smaller companies we’re bringing into this company and building a larger company from the ground up with everyone having that opportunity to put a dollar in.
CD: You mentioned 401(k) and that not a lot of companies offer that. Do you have access to banking? What’s your relationship to that whole topic, and can you talk about how that might affect some of this?
CL: In general, it is a challenge to operate in the cannabis industry when it comes to banking, payroll, any type of 401(k)-related items because it’s still federally illegal. That poses a challenge there itself. When you think about it, yes, there are challenges with banking, but a lot of those relationships are determined by the bank itself and if they are comfortable working with cannabis companies. We do our due diligence and seek out banks that are cannabis-friendly, that already are working with cannabis companies and have that experience already in this industry. So, yes, it is a challenge, but we’ve been able to overcome it by really developing strong relationships with banks that are operational in this industry already.
CD: I read in a blog post on Jushi’s site that being a multi-state operator, the company hopes to offset overhead costs for individual operations. Has Jushi seen greater profit margins because it’s an MSO or because it has multiple locations, and in turn, have those margins—if it has seen greater profit margins—allowed for more hiring or the payment of higher wages to employees, including employees of diverse backgrounds?
CL: I can answer it to an extent. I can’t really answer to the dime if it’s increased our margins. We’re still in that startup mode right now, and profitability is just really not there from an overall perspective. But in general, when you’re looking at it from a shared services perspective, we have our shared services center here in Boca, which supports all of our operations out in the field. And I think when you have that shared service centralized—a centralized structure from the corporate aspect—that allows you to do more with the field. You have more opportunity for operational positions that can actually support the business … . Let’s say an individual out in the field contacts us, we’re able to solve problems probably 10 times faster than having several different departments all over in several different states.
CD: Broadly, what are some of the challenges of hiring and retaining a diverse workforce?
SH: Fortunately, we don’t have a high turnover rate, so each store is relatively small-staffed, like 10 to 15 patient consultants. After a store is open, I find that I don’t have to do too much hiring at all, which is great.
CL: I think that’s probably contributed to the culture, too. My first time in the stores was back at the end of last year. And it’s really interesting how much of a family dynamic that they have. It’s like each individual business is its own small business. But at the end of the day, they all still collaborate with each other, so that in general—and I think that comes from the leadership that’s out there in the field—[is] really driving that type of family-oriented environment. I think it helps keep people with the company, and like she said, we really haven’t had hardly any turnover.
CD: Are there any practices or programs that Jushi has borrowed from other industries or companies to promote diversity that you’ve found to be effective?
Nichole Upshaw: We come from a very diverse set of backgrounds that serves us really well here, but something that I think we all would say we’re experiencing for the first time is that in cannabis, and especially medical, which, of course all states have started off medical—your customer, they’re patients, they’re medical marijuana patients—that has benefited us greatly for hiring diversity because all different types of people are coming in to purchase medical marijuana and have different ailments. We are really fortunate that the people that we literally see every single day are this wide range of people for us to recruit.
Clifton and I were in Illinois last week onboarding two new dispensaries that we purchased, and after I talked to every employee at the store that I was at—there were like 20 employees—and the range of age diversity—I was so impressed. They worked together so incredibly well. So, it is really something unique to see, wow, we’re able to bring in these very different people. Any type of different diversity, whether that’s age, sex, sexual orientation, race—and the way there is no issue with the way that they work together because they have this common belief in their core that cannabis makes people’s lives better—they connect on that, and it is really cool to see.