Cannabis Jobs in America: 3 Takeaways from the Leafly Job Report

by | Apr 20, 2022

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

There are now more full-time cannabis jobs in America than there are for bank tellers or insurance agents. In 2021, the growth rate in this industry beat out all other sectors in the country, and there is still substantial growth potential in the years to come.

Leafly recently published a forward-looking Cannabis Jobs Report to explore this astounding growth of marijuana employment. In partnership with Whitney Economics, a global leader in cannabis and hemp business consulting, data, and economic research, this report analyzes current growth to forecast the future.

And let it be known — the future looks bright.

Takeaway #1: Unprecedented Growth

The most notable takeaway from the Leafly-backed jobs report is the indication of “428,059 full-time equivalent jobs supported by legal cannabis as of January 2022.” This impressive number considers all direct plant-touching jobs (cultivation technicians, budtenders, and the like) and ancillary services that directly depend on legal sales (accountants, compliance officers, maintenance, and more).

In 2021 alone, the industry grew by 33 percent, adding more than 100,000 jobs during the second year of the global pandemic. Despite lockdowns, generalized social anxieties, and the Great Resignation, cannabis kept chugging along at an incredible pace.

But 2021 wasn't an anomaly. Leafly reports that over the last five years, jobs in the industry have grown, on average, at 27 percent. The report predicts a slight slowdown in 2023, but adult-use markets are really just getting started.

Even Beau Whitney, founder and chief economist at Whitney Economics and co-author of the report, found many aspects of this analysis remarkable.

Whitney told Cannabis Tech just how impressive he found the expansion of cannabis across the country, stating, “The fact that over 100,000 workers were added to payrolls of cannabis companies. So many families supported — so much economic benefit to the communities. Over the past two years, the growth has shown that cannabis is a major force in the overall U.S. economy.”

Takeaway #2: California and Colorado Still Leading in Jobs Numbers

Unsurprisingly, the big players leading the way in American cannabis jobs are California and Colorado. As per Leafly, as of January 2022, California had 83,607 legal cannabis jobs, and Colorado had 38,337.

As two of the most mature cannabis markets in the country, these states have a decade or more under their belt. California contributes approximately $5 billion in annual sales, and Colorado adds another $2.2 billion.

Do authors Bruce Barcott and Whitney see any room for development in the cannabis jobs markets in these two states? When it comes to Colorado, the hiring frenzy has slowed down. The growth rate is much lower — single digits — than the national average. But, they do predict some room for growth in California, as they suggest, “Much of the illicit market [is] still to be captured by legal operators.”

Interestingly, Michigan, a relatively new market (2018), has quickly caught up. At the time of publication, the state had 31,152 legal marijuana jobs. Illinois was another state worth noting, with 28,992 jobs since legalization in 2019.

Takeaway #3: Big Promise from Up and Coming Markets

Three attractive adult-use markets are coming online in 2022: Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Mexico. With a collective population of more than 15 million Americans, these states represent an incredible opportunity for growth — and hiring. New York's sales won't begin until 2023, but that's another 20 million Americans. As these markets ramp up, there will inevitably be a hiring frenzy.

While the relationship between cannabis sales and employment opportunities isn't always linear, this relationship does hold true in new markets. After all, these states need to flush out all areas in the seed-to-sale vertical, from cultivation to compliance to the sales counter.

And what about all those states that are still slogging through legalization? These states are missing out. According to Whitney, legalization is “a 2.4x – 2.8 x multiplier.” With sales hitting $25 billion in the U.S. in 2021, that translates to more than $60 billion in total economic activity. In his words, “Non-legal states are missing out on the job creation, business taxes, and health care cost savings that are benefitting legal states.”

Whitney Economics calculated that the annual cannabis sales from 2021 — $25 billion — is just the tip of the iceberg. It's just a fraction of the potential market. As the report makes clear, “25% of the nation's true cannabis demand is still being met by illicit growers and sellers.” When these sales transition to legal ones, on a state-by-state or perhaps even a federal mandate, the jobs numbers will follow.

428,059 Cannabis Jobs and Counting

Despite the slow pace of federal legalization, the number of Americans employed in the cannabis industry continues to explode. The industry as a whole is contributing an impressive amount to the economy, whether measured by direct sales, taxes, or full-time employment.

The 2021 Leafly Jobs Report clarifies that these numbers aren't just an anomaly. The cannabis job rate continues to climb, year after year, and is far from hitting its peak. As a result, the next five years will be fascinating to watch.

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