What Do Background Checks for Cannabis Growers Entail?

The cannabis industry continues to expand, which means an increasing number of growing operations and the associated demand for new workers. How does due diligence look in this space? Consider what goes into background checks for cannabis growers today and what employers should keep in mind when building compliant hiring processes.

With medical cannabis now authorized in 39 states and recreational usage legal in 21 states, a titanic new industry is taking the first steps towards growth. The resulting demand for recreational and medicinal marijuana has led to the massive growth of dispensaries and the growing operations that back them up by supplying product directly to storefronts. As a very vertically integrated sector, working for a dispensary or a grower is often functionally the same thing. 

These new and growing cannabis employers face many challenges unique to the industry, not least because cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, illegal and tightly controlled. Even major cannabis companies can have trouble accessing traditional financial systems, such as banking—before we even begin considering the mechanics of becoming licensed to grow cannabis.

Grow facilities are huge operations that span thousands or tens of thousands of square feet, and it is far more complex than simply growing and harvesting a plant. Germinating seeds and growing the cannabis plant is only the beginning. Many other employees must assist in harvesting, trimming unwanted leaves and vegetation, curing and drying the cannabis, conducting health and safety testing for quality control, and finally, packaging for sale. One facility could have dozens or hundreds of employees.

All these positions may require a background check or a pre-employment drug test. Although advocates for reform have drawn much attention to the huge negative impact that decades of cannabis prohibition had and see the industry as an opportunity for making amends, safety is still a key concern. What are the background checks and drug screening procedures for workers in cannabis growing today? To answer that question, we should consider why they are important in the first place.

Why Are Background Checks Important in the Cannabis Sector?

For example, although many states have legal, medical marijuana, obtaining it is not always a simple or cheap process. States bordering areas with legal recreational marijuana represent a potentially huge market for bad actors who can access a steady product supply. Rather than being a barrier to keep out as many as possible, background checks for cannabis growers aim to prevent harm and limit opportunities for wrongdoing.

For these reasons, some states impose specific restrictions on who can and can't work in this industry. For example, in Michigan, any prior convictions for the distribution of drugs to minor results in an automatic disqualification for any job related to cannabis. At the same time, Michigan discounts licensing fees for those applying to be growers if they have a non-distribution marijuana-related felony conviction. Other states do not make such distinctions.

Conducting thorough background checks is a critical element of compliance for operating in this industry. Reducing opportunities for organized crime and fraud might be key reasons for these vetting efforts, but so are the common reasons for using a background check. Verifying credentials, ensuring staff safety, and avoiding future claims of negligence also factor into the equation.

The Typical Elements of a Cannabis Sector Background Check

What will a typical background check for someone joining a cannabis farm look like? The answer may depend on the state—some require more in-depth vetting than others. However, the components will generally look very similar to background checks in other industries. That means it could include the following:

  • Alias verification/SSN checks to verify identity and confirm that the individual has the legal clearance to work in the industry.
  • Criminal background checks. Whether you consider drug-related convictions depends on the conviction type and the state licensing body's specific rules. What charges an employer may consider disqualifying will vary, but violent felonies and sex crimes may disqualify candidates.
  • License verification. For states that require a grower's license or a "badging" program to clear individuals to work in the industry, you should take the time necessary to verify that their badge or license is valid and in good standing.
  • Education and employment verification. For skilled positions, especially in the growing rooms, you may wish to verify that an applicant has told the truth about their prior employment and their educational credentials. This is important to ensure you hire those with the proper skills for the job.

Is There a Drug Test for Employment in This Industry?

What about pre-employment drug screening? It may surprise many applicants to learn that marijuana-related facilities conduct drug tests, but the reality is that most still carry out this form of due diligence. However, many advertisements and job listings for such positions will notably specify that the business does not disqualify individuals because of a positive result for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. 

This step is in keeping with the spirit of opening more job opportunities to those impacted by low-level cannabis convictions. Employers in this sector will still test for other drugs, such as evidence of opioid/heroin abuse and other "hard" drugs that could indicate potential risk factors. 

Be Mindful of Changing State and Local Laws Imposing Varying Restrictions

Although most employers further down the pipeline, particularly dispensaries, can simply follow general hiring best practices when evaluating drug tests and background checks, growers may face a more stringent regulatory environment. Similarly, some states may even require special state-issued licenses for dispensary workers—so it is best not to assume that the right way to hire is always the same.

Remember that this is an evolving industry that faces continued scrutiny from lawmakers around the nation. As part of your due diligence, monitor for changes that could impact your employment policies. For example, Washington state's cannabis programs previously considered a felony conviction that occurred within the past ten years a disqualifying factor. New legislation changes those rules to require an in-depth review but does not necessarily bar felons outright, as the previous rules often did. Growers should be vigilant and take note when such rule changes occur.

Developing a Compliant Background Check Policy

As legalization expands and the federal government considers rescheduling marijuana, there will continue to be new opportunities for businesses to start up in this space. For those thinking about running a commercial marijuana growing operation or those already involved in the industry, hiring the right people is just as critical as in any other industry. The main difference here is the complex patchwork of rules and regulations that apply to how you do business and vet candidates for employment. Drug testing and background checks come with extra strings attached in this space.

It is vital to take the time to dive deep into the regulations that apply to your business based on your state. The rules can be even more complicated for growers engaged in interstate commerce. Speaking with an employment lawyer in your area may provide clarity on the subject and help you take steps to formulate a repeatable and fully compliant background check policy. This policy should spell out the steps you'll take, how you'll make decisions, and how to comply with state law.

The right partner to support your hiring pipeline also makes a considerable difference. At backgroundchecks.com, we provide an extensive suite of vetting products ideal for the cannabis sector alongside an in-depth Learning Center where you can explore additional information about background checks and compliance. Find out more today.

Get instant updates on Cannabis

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

Michael's recent publications

More Like This Post

State Criminal Search

Virginia Criminal Search

A Virginia state background check can uncover more criminal records. Learn about these tools and the legal restrictions involved.

Order a Search for Virginia