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.
Fifty-Plus Workers in Weed: Second Careers in Cannabis
Faces of Legal Marijuana: Unemployed Software Salesman Goes for the Green...Rush
Name: Jake Dimmock Previous Work: Merchant Seaman, Caregiver Cannabis Industry Job: Master Gardener, and co-owner of Northwest Patient Resource Center (NWPRC). Age: 55
"I'm the Jerry Garcia of the cannabis community," Jake jokes, and the physical resemblance is unmistakable, "I'm the guy you want to have a beer with." The 55 year-old former merchant seaman from Norfolk, Virginia, carries a quiet confidence, in contrast to the strong egos that define so many of his peers.
Cat Jeter has been a professional accountant for nearly 30 years, and an activist for 40. She believes strongly that access to cannabis sativa is a question of economic equality for the masses.
"In the face of peer-reviewed science, what possible reason other than economic oppression can be given for continued prohibition of a safe and useful plant?"
Photo Credit: Tawnee Cowan
Name: John Walters Previous Work: Enterprise software sales Cannabis Career Aspirations: Sales Age: 60
Laid off from a high-paying corporate software sales job at the age of 60, after 19 years with the company, John Walters faced the daunting challenge of trying to compete with much younger, and much less well-paid applicants. Plus, he was burnt out on corporate sales, and looking to rekindle his passions.
"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."
Photo Credit: Michael Guttsen
Name: Paul and Bean Coleman Previous work: Music promoters and bookers Cannabis Career: Entrepreneurs, owner of Beans2gO, delivering medicated meals to homebound patients Ages: Bean 60, Paul 55
"We got into medical marijuana because Paul got cancer 3 years ago. We treated him with RSO for 7 months. They removed the tumor, and he is now completely cancer free. So now we want to help others that are suffering from disease and cannot get out to get medicine. Medical cannabis is a plant we use to heal ourselves. We the people should be allowed to make our own choices about our bodies."
Photo Credit: Tawnee Cowan
Name: Dawn Darington Previous Work: Mental Health Specialist Cannabis Career: CEO OF Choice Wellness Center Age: 68
Dawn Darington is a passionate and tireless activist. Her introduction to medical marijuana began 15 years ago as the mother of an epileptic daughter.
"Human beings have a symbiotic relationship with cannabis that goes back tens of thousands of years."
Photo Credit: Tawnee Cowan
Name: "Farmer" Tom Lauerman Previous Work: Director of Manufacturing for candle and fragrance company Cannabis Career: Cannabis Farmer, Author, and Activist
Farmer "Tom" is well know around the Washington medical marijuana farmer's markets. With his Walt Whitman beard and wilted hat, Farmer Tom has been a recognizable fixture at the market, and in the industry for more than 15 years.
"We are all about our organic lifestyle. From Pure water to straight from the garden cannabis, fruits and veggies. Love the way you live."