The other green economy

Sacramento’s medical-cannabis community employs thousands—and not who you would expect

Left to right: Courtney Stowe, Megan McFadyn, Kayla Lewis and Lindsay Hoffman doing work at Fruitridge Health and Wellness Collective.

Left to right: Courtney Stowe, Megan McFadyn, Kayla Lewis and Lindsay Hoffman doing work at Fruitridge Health and Wellness Collective.

Photo by santiago meza

Megan McFadyn studied at California State University Monterey Bay with plans to become a teacher. But after graduating in 2010, she moved back in with her parents in Sacramento to save up money, and then, like most college grads, hit Craigslist to find work.

This past July, she read an ad for an executive assistant position at an unnamed business. McFadyn had previously spent five years working a desk job for her uncle, so she applied. It turned out to be for Fruitridge Health and Wellness Collective, a medical-cannabis dispensary in south Sacramento.

“They told me when they asked me for an interview,” she laughed.

McFadyn landed the position. With today’s unemployment crisis, she was lucky to find any job. But as California’s medical cannabis industry comes of age, more people like her are finding employment in the field, and it’s not just growers and budtenders who’re getting a paycheck.

There are four other employees at the Fruitridge Health and Wellness office: an HR person, administrative assistant, office manager and a business manager. FHWC employs 24 people, including security guards, budtenders, shift leaders and managers. All full-time employees who pass their 90-day probation get medical benefits and a 401(k) plan.

FHWC even creates work for other businesses. McFadyn says she regularly works with two freelance graphic designers and an advertising firm. The collective recently hired award-winning Sacramento design firm Popp Littrell to update the club’s interior.

In most ways, dispensaries and collectives are like any other business. They need carpenters, alarm installers, marketing experts, lawyers and accountants.

Even public-sector jobs are getting a boost from the cannabis industry. City of Sacramento spokesman Maurice Chaney told SN&R that three city employees handle medical-cannabis issues: one in the revenue division and two in code enforcement.

“It’s amazing how many jobs are created just from this industry,” said Mike Aberle, an insurance agent who provides coverage to those in the cannabis business.

A few years back, Aberle and his boss at Statewide Insurance Services were brainstorming ways to boost their business after the construction and home-building industries collapsed.

After Aberle’s mother-in-law passed away from cancer, he met up with an old friend at the funeral. During their chat, the friend complained about the price of the stripped-down dispensary coverage he had purchased from another insurance company. Realizing he had found the opportunity he needed, Aberle went to his boss the next day.

“He green-lighted it all the way,” Aberle said.

Now operating as MMD Insurance, Aberle and his 17 employees offer insurance to medical-cannabis providers across the country and in Canada.

“If you remove the element of marijuana, they really are the same type of business; they require the same ancillary services to run their business as my business takes,” Aberle explained.

His company now offers specially tailored coverage for just about every aspect of the medical-cannabis industry: dispensaries, crops, delivery trucks and processing equipment, among them. His business insures growers, edible manufacturers and delivery drivers. Some of those workers, he said, make up to $30 an hour, plus benefits.

“This one little plant, this one little industry … has now created jobs where there were no jobs before,” said Aberle.

That’s good news for people like McFadyn, who compares her current job to the duties she performed in her uncle’s office.

“We have the same amount of paperwork and processing,” she said.

One downside has been that people outside the business sometimes talk down to her co-workers as if they were less intelligent.

“There are people on staff like myself who actually really don’t smoke that much; I don’t medicate very often,” she said. “And I definitely do not medicate while working. I could not do my job very well if I did.”

Ultimately, she wants to get back to teaching. She enjoys working with kids and calls it her passion.

“I’m happy here,” she said of her current job. “But it’s definitely something I would not see myself doing long-term.”