COVID Interrupts Cannabis Job Growth

by | May 14, 2020

Written by Kristina Etter

Kristina is a digital content creator and designer. She has a talent for creating engaging and informative content that resonates with our professional audience. Kristina’s passion for the cannabis industry stems from her belief that it has the potential to revolutionize the world in many ways, and has a personal testimony of cannabis success.

In 2019, the legal cannabis industry created over 211,000 full-time jobs in the USA. Leafly even named the cannabis industry, “America’s Hidden Job Boom.” The highest concentration of employment can be seen in states where both medical and recreational use is allowed, such as Colorado, Washington, Florida, and California. The Bureau of Labor Statistics didn’t report on jobs in the cannabis industry since it’s illegal on the federal level. But, Leafly has continued to monitor the increasing job growth in the cannabis sector.

However, with the outbreak of COVID-19, like most industries, things took a downturn. What is the current state of employment in the cannabis industry? How has the sector faired since the outbreak? And lastly, what does a post-pandemic future hold for an essential cannabis industry?

Cannabis Tech spoke with Karson Humiston, CEO of Vangst, a cannabis-focused recruiting firm, to discuss.

Pre-Pandemic Cannabis Industry Job Growth

According to ZipRecruiter, the number of marijuana-related jobs increased by 445% in 2017. The massive success in the industry prompted hiring on all levels — from manufacturing to laborers, from tech executives to startup entrepreneurs. Some success stories of the 21st century are seen in the cannabis business — with Eaze, the weed delivery service that’s valued $300 million or Trulieve, who New Cannabis Ventures just named the company the top producing, publically-traded cannabis stock, generating sales of $7.5million per quarter.  

Legal cannabis sales increased by 34% in 2018, making it a $10.8 billion market, and the entire job market flourished at an unprecedented rate. In 2017, there were only 110,000 jobs in the USA in the cannabis industry. Within just two years, the number has doubled. Today, the cannabis industry outpaces sectors such as the textile industry, which counts 110,000 workers and the mining industry, which employs 52,000 people.

As of now, 34 states have some form of legalized medical marijuana. Ten more states and the District of Colombia have legalized cannabis for adult use. As cannabis spending is predicted to reach $31.6 billion in 2022, the cannabis job market must continue to grow to meet these demands. 

Most Americans today believe cannabis should be fully legalized. Yet, with the declaration of cannabis as an essential industry during a pandemic, it is clear that the Federal government can no longer ignore the impact of the cannabis industry—especially the impact on America’s economy. Not only does the cannabis industry create new jobs — including direct and ancillary jobs — but it also promotes new sectors, especially in the agriculture and technology fields. 

Along Came COVID

No industry will walk away from this viral outbreak without experiencing loss. Although the cannabis industry is essential, the businesses must still abide by social distancing precautions. This means operating with less staff, working in shifts, and maintaining ample distance and protective wear. As such, job growth in the industry has slowed significantly.

“There’s been a slow-down across the board,” Humiston elucidated.

“In many cases, we’ve seen full-time hiring being put on hold, as uncertainty drives these businesses to keep expenses low,” she continued. Humiston added that many cannabis businesses are operating at 20 percent capacity due to social-distancing recommendations, which means less hiring, as well.  

However, it’s not all gloom and doom, according to Humiston. Sales positions in the industry continue to garner high-demand. “Companies need salespeople to drive sales, so there’s plenty of opportunity for talented sales professionals,” Humiston added.

Thoughts for the Future

While Humiston understands that this turbulent time is impacting everyone, she offered optimism as she declared, “I am a firm believer in cannabis and cannabis jobs in the future. And while this pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on the rate of job growth in the industry, I’m very positive about the industry outlook in the long term.”

With legal dispensaries, manufacturers, and producers being named essential, it’s not a surprise that the entire industry is feeling a renewed energy towards the prospect of federal legalization. The hemp and CBD industry, furthermore, is also fuelling the legal marijuana job economy. New school programs have emerged to provide a skilled workforce in the cannabis business, like the Cannabis Training Industry and Clover Leaf University. 

New technology developments will also fuel job growth in the cannabis sector. Machine learning, automation, and blockchain are sought to accompany the cannabis revolution in the next years and will increase the demand for advanced engineering roles. As new technological needs surface to meet a larger consumer market, producers and manufacturers ramp up hiring efforts. 

The future looks bright for the cannabis business, not only for the general economy of the USA but also for cultivators and producers of cannabis. With so many spheres involved in the booming cannabis business, we can expect that the sector will likely continue to lead the job creation market in North America (Canada and USA) in the next years. Not only will the industry see steady job growth, but it will also evolve into a safer, more stable market. 

Part Two: Furloughs, Layoffs, and Losses: Covid-19 Takes a Hit on Cannabis

Come back tomorrow for a look at who's reporting losses and how deep the COVID cutbacks are affecting the industry.