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Cannabis is a growing and newly booming industry. As more and more states legalize recreational cannabis use, and more politicians push for legalization at a federal level, the cannabis job market is seeing a lot of upwards momentum. While much of the country seems to be focused on the increasing job outlook in technology and health care, many are overlooking the incredible expansion happening in the cannabis industry.


The tracking of cannabis job creation is a relatively new process, started about four years ago by Leafly.com. Leafly.com decided to start tracking when they discovered that federal and state economists were not tracking state-legal cannabis numbers at all, for the sole reason that it is still considered federally illegal. When tracking began, the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) didn’t even have a code for cannabis jobs, meaning there wasn’t a way for economists to track how many jobs were in the field, even if they wanted to. While the NAICS has since added a code for cannabis jobs, they are still not very helpful in determining actual numbers and recent data on the growth within the industry. Cannabis retail jobs are categorized with other retail entities like art supply and hot tub stores, while cannabis growers are put in the same category as hay farmers and agave growers. At the surface, it’s easy to see why they could be lumped together with these other industries, however they are very different types of businesses and with cannabis on its way to hitting historic industry growth, it’s important that it is designated and classified correctly.

Understanding the importance of this, Leafly.com added its own team of data collectors and analysts using systems put in place by top level economists and industry-leading firms. The data is compiled state by state using statistics generated from the numbers provided by each state’s regulatory agency.


Current Numbers

As of January 2020, there are more than 243,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the legal cannabis industry, a 15% increase from 2019. That means over the previous 12 months, more than 33,00 new jobs were created just in the cannabis industry. What does that really mean? It means that legal cannabis is the fastest growing industry in the United States [1].

Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Illinois are currently the states with the highest increase in cannabis job creation since 2019, with Massachusetts adding over 10,000 new jobs and Oklahoma adding 7,300 new jobs. In fact, Massachusetts now has more legal cannabis workers than hair stylists and cosmetologists. Florida is another state that saw a lot of growth in 2019, which is in part because of its large number of registered medical marijuana patients. With more than 300,000 patients registered, Florida now has the most medical cannabis patients of any state in the country. With so many registered patients, and smokable hemp flower becoming legal, Florida saw an incredible 93% sales boost in cannabis products in 2019 [2].


States with the Most Jobs

Even though it experienced quite a bit of job loss in 2019, California is still the largest legal cannabis employment state in America. However, Colorado is currently the top per-capita cannabis employer, with 1 in every 165 residents working in the industry. California is closer to 1 in every 980. Colorado has also managed to outperform Washington state, even though both states legalized cannabis in 2012. Compared to the number of jobs in Washington, Colorado has almost 10,000 more people employed in the industry, even though Washington has almost two million more residents in the state [3].

Both Colorado and Washington, however, have reported a very strong job growth number of 8% within six years of legalization and recreational stores opening for business. Not only do these numbers suggest stunning growth opportunities, they also show a strong indication that opening up legal and retail cannabis sales has drawn customers away from illegal sellers while also inspiring those who would not be considered typical users to explore these new products [4].


Cannabis and COVID-19

In a somewhat stunning turn of events, governors and public health officials in states with legalized recreational cannabis declared cannabis sales an essential service in the face of the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020. With other retail establishments being forced close to public safety, leaving only the most essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies open, cannabis finally got some of the recognition it deserves as a medically and therapeutically necessary service. During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, having continued access to cannabis was an incredible relief to many who require it for their daily needs [5].


Future Outlook

Cannabis had explosive growth in 2018, leading many to gain too much confidence a little too early in the game. With the Canadian market slow to grow, and investment capital waning, and a national vaping warning and subsequent health crisis, layoffs did happen and the industry did slow its growth in 2019 compared to 2018.

Some of the hardest hit states were California and Michigan, two of the largest cannabis markets in the United States. Due to changes in laws and regulations, these two states were noted to have experienced substantial job loss. For instance, a caregiver law in California expired and changed an estimated 8,000 jobs from legal to non-legal. Likewise, in Michigan, a new regulation format changed the status of formally legal dispensaries to being listed as operating illegally. It should be noted, however, that the jobs affected by these law changes are expected to be reinstated within 2 years once the states work out the kinks in the regulation process and correctly relicense all those who experienced a status change [6].


Job Growth

The incredible growth in Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Florida balanced out any losses in other states that may have occurred, and still returned a very impressive increase over 12 months. Job growth in the legal cannabis industry is expected to far outnumber even the fastest growing occupations in the country over the next ten years. For example, wind turbine service techs and solar photovoltaic installers are expected to see an increase of 57%-63% respectively over the next ten years. Compare that to the 250% increase that is expected for the legal cannabis industry [7]!

Beyond American borders, Canada has also seen a dramatic increase in cannabis related jobs and an overall industry boom. In 2018 it added legal cannabis to its industry statistical gathering in preparation for the nationwide legalization of cannabis. One Canadian company actually had to import workers to harvest cannabis, helping Canada see a 200% increase in cannabis jobs in that country [8].


Spending

Cannabis spending is expected to grow to more than $17 billion by 2020, with a projected total of more than $31 billion in 2022 . When consumers purchase retail cannabis, a portion of that money goes to local taxes, which range from 10% to 37% and are used to fund job creation, school construction, drug abuse prevention programs, and medical research. With projected sales in the billions, it’s important to realize how much of that money will go back into the community via taxes [9].

All of the recent job data goes to show the power of the cannabis industry and its almost guaranteed future as an integral and lucrative part of the U.S. and global economies. As further proof of its power, cannabis is expected to help grow the economy, even without any of the concessions that are currently being demanded by other large corporations that are also responsible for playing a part in economic growth. To put it bluntly: the cannabis industry is adding jobs without costing the taxpayers any extra money. The industry is growing and very soon it will be a top contender within the global economy.

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