Human Resources with STM Canna


In this Growers Spotlight, we interviewed Aaron Ray of STM Canna about his experience managing individuals and relationships with other companies.

The following is an interview with industry experts. Growers Network does not endorse nor evaluate the claims of our interviewees, nor do they influence our editorial process. We thank our interviewees for their time and effort so we can continue our exclusive Growers Spotlight service.


Abbreviated Article


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Human Resources


What have you learned from managing people?

Being a successful leader means surrounding yourself with people who are better than you, so that you can be better. This is true regardless of what industry you work in.

It’s also important to point out that, as an entrepreneur, you’ll spend more time with your coworkers and employees than you do with your family. You want everybody to be rowing the boat in the same direction. If we keep the company’s best interests at heart, we should always be able to come out on top.


How do you find and hire good talent?

The cannabis industry is unique when it comes to this question. You don’t really have a 10-20 year track record, because there’s no evidence for it. Even somebody who has devoted their life to cannabis doesn’t really have a paper trail to prove themselves.

Because of this unique problem, you have to take a different approach. We start out with a question. Why is this potential employee in the cannabis industry?

  1. Are they in it for a passion to heal?
  2. Are they in it for the business side?
  3. Or are they just in it to get a paycheck?

You need people with a mix of all three reasons. Employees should recognize that it’s a business to make money, but also want to help people and do some good. It can be hard for people to separate their identity from the business, and you don’t want people just to make a quick buck.


How do you retain quality employees?

It depends on the employees you want to retain. Many of this industry’s employees are young. Not to stereotype the “youngins,” you should target your retention policies towards the things they desire.

Most of my employees want a to have a clear path of where they can go as an individual and how to get there. We keep a “vision board” where people can see their progress and how to advance further. This curbs the desire for instant gratification and shows that you care about your workers. You treat them as family. You don’t need to listen to everyone all the time, but you’re showing that you value their input.


What would you like to know about human resources?

I want to see the data from staffing companies like Vangst. I want to know what the studies say about the A+ worker in the cannabis industry. What do they look like? What are their wants and needs? I don’t want to rely upon anecdotal data, I want a comprehensive study.


Business-Client Interactions


How do you find the businesses worth interacting with?

Fortunately, or unfortunately, you have to learn as you go. Each state is practically a different country due to the different rules and guidelines they have in place. States with better-defined protocols and standards tend to have the best companies to work with.

This is why, when we started STM, we made sure that we were going to stay ahead of compliance. Everything has safety features, matches food-grade quality or laboratory quality, and more. When you design and build with compliance and safety in mind, you establish your company’s reputation as a positive one.


How do you protect your business from untrustworthy individuals?

In our case, we don’t actually touch the plants. We just sell processing equipment that is used in the industry. It’s really hard to abuse our products in a way they weren’t designed for.

We also require a large deposit or a full payment up front for our machines. When people are serious, they’re not going to run you around. Most have a litany of questions about the quality, ease of use, and how our products fit into their supply chain. If they find our answers satisfactory, then they shouldn’t have a problem pulling the trigger.


What’s troubled you about the industry?

I haven’t had any problems that are unique to the cannabis industry. We’ve had people back out of deals suddenly, or decide to renege on a deal. Opportunities will fail to pan out. But you encounter that in any business.

Because of the industry though, we have to worry about our clients all the time. Are they going to go under? Is the federal government going to do something to them? That’s really where our industry differs from other ones. It’s the trepidation and worry. It’s practically in the air. If Jeff Sessions sneezes, and the word “marijuana” is on his lips, everyone else holds their breath. It’s a scary world to live in legislative limbo like this.

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Human Resources


Being a successful leader means surrounding yourself with people who are better than you, so that you can be better. This is true regardless of what industry you work in, and is true in a new industry such as cannabis.

Any industry, including the stock photos industry!

As a leader, you have to engage your team to grow the company, because they are the company. As the CEO or a manager, you may feel like it’s your company, but it has a life of its own. Its success rides on many people, not just your performance.

It’s also important to point out that, as an entrepreneur, you’ll spend more time with your coworkers and employees than you do with your family. You want everybody to be rowing the boat in the same direction. If we keep the company’s best interests at heart, we should always be able to come out on top.

The cannabis industry is unique when it comes to this question. You don’t really have a 10-20 year track record, because there’s no evidence for it. Even somebody who has devoted their life to cannabis doesn’t really have a paper trail to prove themselves.

Because of this unique problem, you have to take a different approach. You need to examine the core competencies of individuals you’re looking to hire, and you need the right individual to work for your company. In our case, because we’re a startup, I look for employees with these desires and abilities:

  1. Flexibility in their knowledge and capabilities
  2. Ability to operate on their own for extended periods of time
  3. Want to have decisions and choices make an impact

But figuring these things out starts with a question. And that question is why:

  1. Why is that potential employee in the cannabis industry?
    1. Are they in it for a passion to heal?
    2. Are they in it for the business side?
    3. Or are they just in it to get a paycheck?

You need people with a mix of all three reasons. Employees should recognize that it’s a business to make money, but also want to help people and do some good. It can be hard for people who have been involved in cannabis industry for a lifetime to separate their identity from the business, and you also don’t want people out to make a quick buck.

It really depends on the employees you want to retain. In our case, this industry is young, as are many of its employees. I don’t want to stereotype the “youngins,” but you need to target your retention policies towards the things they desire.

The youngins’ love stock photos.

One of the most common desires I see in my employees is that they want a to have a clear path of where they can go as an individual, and how they can advance. To facilitate that at STM we keep a “vision board” where people can see where they started off, where they’re planning to go, and how to get there. This helps curb the desire for instant gratification and shows that you, as an employer, care about your workers more than just seeing them as employees. You treat them as family, as a part of your company. You don’t need to listen to everyone all the time, but you’re showing everyone that you do value their input.

Knock on wood, I have not. There have always been disagreements and mistakes. After all, we’re all failing our way forward in the industry as we seek to establish the best protocols and SOPs.

It certainly hasn’t been a cakewalk, but we’ve had success with our people. We’ve retained every key employee we’ve ever hired and we pride ourselves on it. Granted, we’re a startup, and that fact will eventually change, but for now we’re happy to see everyone sticking through the startup phase.

There’s a running tug-of-war between the upper management and lower management about whether we should classify 4/20 as a company holiday. I totally get it; it’s a day of recognition for the struggle around cannabis, but it’s almost always one of our busiest days too. Our employees grumble about not getting 4/20 off, but they understand.

I will get 4/20 off!

One of the other conundrums in this industry is that as a human being, you can support legalization of cannabis, but as a manager, you can also fire your employees for using cannabis. You’re caught in this weird position where you want to support the freedom to use it, but you don’t want your employees to be inebriated on the job. It’s not like you can get a doctor’s note for it right now.

I actually want to see the data and information coming out of staffing companies like Vangst. I was involved in workforce solutions in the healthcare industry for 10 years, and I want to know what the studies say about the A+ worker in the cannabis industry. What does he/she look like? What are their wants and needs? What qualities do they have? I don’t want to rely upon anecdotal data, I want a comprehensive study.

Business-Client Interactions

If Jeff Sessions sneezes, and the word “marijuana” is on his lips, everyone else holds their breath.Aaron Ray
Great question. As I’m sure you’re probably aware, there are a lot of tire kickers in the business, and not many of them are actually interested in making a deal.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, you have to learn as go. Each state is practically a different country due to the different rules and guidelines they have in place. I’m not going to name any particular states, but I will say that the states with better-defined protocols and standards tend to have the best companies to work with. States that are more “wild-west” often have a lot of misbehavior going on.

This is why, when we started STM, we made sure that we were going to stay ahead of compliance. Everything has safety features, matches food-grade quality or laboratory quality, and more. The truth is that when you design and build with compliance and safety in mind, you establish your company’s reputation as a positive one.

In our case, we don’t actually touch the plants. We just sell processing equipment that is used in the industry. Because of that, much of our business is already protected from the natural relationship of being a “picks-and-shovels” business. It’s really hard to abuse our products in a way they weren’t designed for.

We also require a large deposit or a full payment up front for our machines. We don’t want people playing the “trial period” game and messing around. When people are serious, they’re aren’t going to run you around. Few people will ever just call us and just ask for a product. There’s a litany of questions about the quality, ease of use, and how our products fit into their supply chain. If they find our answers satisfactory, then they shouldn’t have a problem pulling the trigger.

The questioning process makes sense. This is a very different industry, one in which many people have been burned (in both the literal and figurative sense). Many people in the industry are prone to skepticism about a product, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. People want a throat to choke if their equipment blows up, so vetting is critical.

My best experiences in the industry have been at tradeshows. I love seeing all of the new technology and innovation in the industry. It really shows that we’re not just a flash in the pan. We’re a growing industry and we’re not just typical “stoners” trying to make a buck; this is a legitimate business.
I haven’t had any problems that are unique to the cannabis industry. We’ve had people back out of deals suddenly, or decide to renege on a deal. Opportunities will fail to pan out. But you encounter that in any business, regardless of who you’re working with.

We’re a start up, so we also have to face concerns relevant to that. Naturally, people have more trepidation about buying from us, because they want to know if we’re going to be around in a year if their machine breaks. A lot of businesses go under in this industry.

Conversely, we have to worry about our clients all the time. Are they going to go under? Is the federal government going to do something to them?

That’s really where our industry differs from other ones. It’s the trepidation and worry. It’s practically in the air. If Jeff Sessions sneezes, and the word “marijuana” is on his lips, everyone else holds their breath. It’s a scary world to live in legislative limbo like this.


About Aaron and STM Canna


STM Canna engineers, designs, and manufactures processing equipment for the cannabis industry. We do it all in-house at our facility in Spokane. My business partner, the COO and lead engineer, Jason Dueweke, came up with our Rosin Press and Rocket Box. He’s our “mad scientist.” I’m just the CEO and handle the boring business side of things.

We’re a small company, so we wear a lot of different hats. I handle a significant portion of our financial management, human resources, and any other managerial tasks that come up. It’s the nature of a startup, you have to work outside your comfort zone.

I grew up in Oklahoma, and went to college at Oklahoma state. I’ve also spent most of my adult life in Texas, and got my MBA from Texas Christian University.

Most of my family has worked in the oil and gas industry, and I spent the majority of my career in healthcare, healthcare staffing, and workforce solutions. I also had a secondary job investing and looking at energy investments, doing my due diligence.

My extended family and I moved to Spokane about two years ago, and I saw what was going on with the cannabis industry, and really liked it. I saw a niche that was open when we started STM Canna, and it’s been going well ever since. I’ve seen the benefits of medical cannabis firsthand. It helped me recover from a myriad of health issues and helped me get clean of quite a few pharmaceuticals.



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Want to get in touch with STM Canna?

You can reach them via the following methods:

  1. Website: http://stmcanna.com/
  2. Phone: 509.228.3576
  3. Email: [email protected]


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About the Author

Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.