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New Vangst, Leafly Reports Detail Surging Cannabis Job Market

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There are now more legal cannabis workers than electrical engineers in the U.S. but issues of equality continue to plague the industry.

If you want to work in the legal cannabis industry, you’ve picked a great time to be alive.

From an anecdotal standpoint, it’s obvious that opportunity is knocking. In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are billboards for major players like Weedmaps and Eaze where an iconic Coca-Cola sign once stood. Across the U.S., cannabis job fairs and new brands in need of employees continue to suggest that legal weed is now a major source of jobs (for markets where such activities are permitted).

And now, thanks to new reports from cannabis recruiting platform Vangst and weed information repository Leafly, we have the numbers to back it all up.

Published last week, Leafly’s fifth annual Cannabis Jobs Report found that legal cannabis now supports “a record-high 321,000 full-time American jobs across the 37 states with legal medical or adult use markets.” In an effort to put these figures into perspective, that means there are now more legal cannabis workers than electrical engineers in the U.S. There are also more legal cannabis workers than EMTs and paramedics and more than twice as many legal cannabis workers as dentists.

Put together by Bruce Barcott, Beau Whitney, and Janessa Bailey, Leafly’s latest Cannabis Jobs Report was compiled in partnership with Whitney Economics. As a result of federal prohibition, the US Department of Labor is prevented from counting state-legal marijuana jobs. Thus, Leafly’s news and data teams have attempted to fill the gap with a yearly analysis of employment in the legal cannabis sector since 2017. And the group’s latest effort is full of fascinating data points.

One of the most compelling stats is the revelation that the cannabis industry added 77,300 jobs in just the last year, representing a record 32 percent increase in year-over-year growth, which Leafly’s report designates “an astonishing figure” given 2020 was “the worst year for US economic growth since World War II.” And, as one might expect, more jobs went hand-in-hand with record sales as well.

“Cannabis-related businesses not only created new jobs,” the report’s authors wrote, “but drove a record-high $18.3 billion worth of cannabis product sales in 2020 — a 71% increase over 2019.”

Interestingly, however, Leafly suggests that hiring numbers are actually lagging behind when compared to the record sales legal cannabis has enjoyed over the past year.

The report’s authors identify two primary factors for the disconnect: investors spooked by milquetoast returns on the Canadian market deciding not to invest in U.S. cannabis companies at a moment when expansion was vital. Then, once Covid-19 hit, whatever money there was for such things seemingly dried up overnight. In addition, social distancing and occupancy rules in the age of a pandemic made it impractical to hire at the scale previously planned prior to Covid.

“In some cases,” the report’s authors explain, “a reverse dynamic came into play. Some booming businesses reported staffing shortages as employees themselves fought off the virus, quarantined due to contact tracing, showed signs of possible infection, or were forced to stay at home due to underlying medical conditions. One business owner reported more staff turnover in 2020 due to the pandemic than in the previous five years.”

But even as the pandemic has made just about every aspect of life more difficult, signs of progress on the cannabis job market remain impossible to ignore.

That’s one of the takeaways from Vangst’s 2020 Cannabis Industry Salary Guide, published late last month. In a section focusing on the most recent states to vote in favor of legalizing cannabis, the direct correlation between making weed legal and creating new jobs is crystal clear.

Across five newly legalized states — Arizona, New Jersey, Mississippi, Montana, and South Dakota — Vangst projects that 26,241 new cannabis jobs will be added by 2025.

Elsewhere, Vangst also ranks the top ten cities for aspiring cannabis professionals to make their mark. For those “breaking into cannabis,” the best destinations include Detroit, Tulsa, and Tucson. On the other hand, the geographic targets for “cannabis-experienced professionals” feature familiar names like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Oakland. But look out for Tampa coming in at #9!

One thing that both the Vangst and Leafly reports also make clear is that racial inequality remains a serious issue for the cannabis industry.

“As cannabis continues its run as America’s fastest-growing industry,” Leafly’s report notes, “troubling racial and gender disparities remain. Black Americans represent 13% of the national population, but they represent only 1.2% to 1.7% of all cannabis company owners — a gap that is far too wide.”

Leafly further provides what the report’s authors designated as “among the most troubling data points from 2020,” including:

  • Illinois cannabis sales tripled in 2020, with more than $1 billion in total revenue. More than 8,000 new cannabis jobs were created in 2020, and yet not a single minority-owned business is a finalist for one of the 75 new cannabis store licenses expected to be issued in 2021.
  • In Massachusetts, only three of the more than 260 retail cannabis stores (1%) currently operating are Black-owned businesses. Only seven are owned or co-owned by women. As recently as 2010, Black residents—9% of the state’s population—were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white residents, despite equal consumption rates.

The data points Vangst offers are succinct but no less troubling. Of all the businesses they surveyed, Vangt reports 44.5% of respondents said their company does not participate in an equity program. Only 7.5% of respondents said they were (or had ever been) a social equity job candidate.

Vangst also found that the cannabis professionals surveyed were overwhelming white and 51.8% male. There were also almost no military veterans or disabled individuals represented either.

Taken together, these two surveys suggest that while cannabis has become historically profitable as an industry, those who suffered through America’s War on Drugs are not the ones reaping the benefits. It’s a conclusion there’s still time to change, but with every passing second, the opportunity to demand better is fading in the name of profits.

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