It is just after New Year's when 61-year-old unemployed software executive John Walters and I meet for coffee. We're there to discuss his interest in moving from the "straight" world of corporate enterprise software sales to the rough and tumble, still embryonic legal cannabis industry.
John, a tall bespeckled northwesterner with close cropped hair, begins by telling me about a recent holiday gathering that he and his wife attended in their Shoreline, WA, neighborhood. Recreational marijuana is legal in Washington, but the social protocols of its use remain uncertain. "Do you fire up at the party?" John ponders. "Do you offer your host a box of joints?" The nuances of integrating legal marijuana use into polite society -- and business life -- are being worked out in living rooms and board rooms across Colorado and Washington.
Walters was laid off from a corporate software sales job after 19 years with the company. At 60, he faced a choice: take early retirement, or find another gig and face the daunting challenge of trying to compete with much younger, and much less well-paid applicants.
"Frankly, they won't look at you if you're 50-plus," John laments. "I look at myself in the mirror, and I don't see some old guy."
John was burnt out on corporate sales. Hoping to rekindle some of the passions that drove success early in his career, he and his family discussed it, and it was mutually decided that he would pursue opportunities in the legal marijuana industry.
No aging hipster
Now John is no aging hipster. He is married, with grown kids, and a seemingly suburban lifestyle. Sure he still sparks up occasionally, a recreational habit that he cultivated in his teens, but John is not yet part of Washington's visible "cannabis community."
He began his job hunt on the internet, searched for "legal marijuana and software," and discovered there were indeed several small companies servicing the medical marijuana industry, which now operates in 21 states.
Late last year, after 6 months of search yielded few leads, John applied for, and was hired by BioTrackTHC, the Florida-based software company that won the contract to build the tracking system for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the governmental agency responsible for creating and managing the state's new licensed legal marijuana industry. He was in at the ground floor.
But the long distance relationship only lasted a month, and now John finds himself back on the job hunt, still eager to be a part of the Green Rush. He has made some contacts, and now regularly attends meetings of the Washington Marijuana Business Association to build his network within the tight-knit cannabis community.
As we go to press, fortunes may have begun to turn, Walters reports. He has recently begun promising discussions with an event marketing company in the marijuana space.
"I don't need to get rich," Walters notes. "I just want to be a part of this new industry."
Click through the slideshow below for more of the Faces of Legal Marijuana. These are people finding second careers in the legal cannabis industry.