BELLERIVE ACRES — Stephanie Woods was staunchly against marijuana use until she tried it five years ago to treat severe back and nerve pain. She never returned to her chiropractor.
“It’s become a passion,” said Woods, 47, of St. Louis, on Saturday at a job fair on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus for the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry.
“I know I can be an asset,” said Woods, a former health care worker and college financial aid adviser. “If I could take my experience to different communities and share what I learned, that would be impactful.”
Legal sales of marijuana products — predicted to top more than $100 million by 2025 — aren’t expected to begin for several months but businesses which beat out crowded competition for state licenses in recent weeks have begun setting up operations across the state.
Missouri has licensed at least 66 businesses to grow, process, test and transport marijuana in the St. Louis area.
The event drew at least 250 prospective job candidates with a wide range of backgrounds including in retail, chemical or biological sciences, health care and regulatory compliance, said Karin Spinks-Chester, CEO of Midwest CannaExpos.
The applicants met representatives of up to 20 companies, including groups licensed to produce and sell marijuana, as well as ancillary businesses that provide marijuana businesses with marketing, security and tech services.
While previous events drew hundreds of people interested in the new industry, the job fair Saturday marked the first time businesses were able to hire for tangible positions, said Andrew Mullins, executive director of the Missouri Cannabis Trade Association.
Those include entry-level positions staffing dispensaries or helping monitor marijuana plants, to high-level positions overseeing entire operations, he said.
“These businesses have to hit the ground running, and to have a skilled workforce to help them build the next steps is a great opportunity,” Mullins said.
Brad Rhodes, co-founder of Robust Medicinals, said he spoke to more than 100 job applicants on Saturday. Robust won a license to process marijuana products in Dittmer and a license to sell marijuana at a dispensary in his hometown of Florissant at 444 Howdershell Road.
“It’s all about meeting people who can add value to our company and are passionate about what we do,” said Rhodes, 27, a chemist who previously oversaw cultivation of hemp for Noah’s Arc, a local CBD-oil producer.
John Spring, 34, of St. Louis was among more than a dozen people who lined up for a sit-down interview with CAMP, a cannabis product brand.
Spring, a construction worker, uses marijuana to treat a sleep disorder, he said. He is interested in how to grow the cannabis plant, and attended a workshop last week for people interested in growing hemp, marijuana’s nonpsychoactive botanical cousin.
“I’m just trying to get my foot in the door in any way possible,” Spring said.
Woods, the former health care worker and college financial aid adviser, grew up in the Clinton-Peabody public housing complex in St. Louis and has seen people close to her jailed for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses, she said.
She hopes the marijuana industry can be an economic boon for communities disproportionately impacted by past tough-on-drug laws, she said.
“It’s been heavy on my mind ever since I started using marijuana and learning more about it,” said Woods.
Woods, who is black, said it’s a “little disheartening” to see relatively few people of color in the industry — “even here.”
“But I hope that will change,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”