To those of us who enjoy and regularly consume cannabis, it’s no surprise that the market is continuing to grow. As of today, 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to allow adult recreational use. Additionally, 36 states and four territories have passed legislation to allow the medical use of cannabis. We’re even seeing a movement to change how cannabis businesses are being treated and aided. This increased legalization has put the legal marijuana market on track to be worth $70.6 billion globally by 2028. In the U.S., where marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, legal marijuana sales are expected to hit $24 billion in 2021. It’s no wonder there has been an exponential job increase in the cannabis market in 2021.
Cannabis Market Growth since 2019
Leafly, in partnership with Whitney Economics, produced the nation’s cannabis employment study. Again, because weed is illegal on a federal level, the U.S. Department of Labor prevents from counting state-legal marijuana jobs. Since 2017, Leafly’s news and data teams have filled in that gap. They conduct a yearly analysis of employment in the legal cannabis sector.
In 2019, the cannabis industry added 33,700 new U.S. jobs for a total of 243,700. 2020 was an even bigger year for the cannabis market. Despite the global pandemic, spiking unemployment, and economic recession, the legal cannabis industry added 77,300 full-time jobs. That represents 32% year-over-year job growth. That is an astonishing number in the worst year for the US economic growth since World War II.
Cannabis: A Booming Industry in the U.S.
When the COVID pandemic hit the U.S. in March, many in the cannabis industry worried about the possible consequences. There was always the possibility of an industry-wide shutdown. Instead, governors in most states declared cannabis an essential product. We saw a shift in the way the market was run. Dispensaries and retail stores began accommodating the situation. They offered online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery as COVID-safe options for their customers.
In turn, customers responded by stocking up for months of stay-at-home advisories and social distancing. In 2020, Americans purchased an estimated $18.3 billion worth of cannabis products, a 71% increase over 2019.
Jobs during COVID v.s. Now
Although sales increased during 2020, the hiring didn’t exactly match up. Two factors caused staff hiring to lag significantly behind the revenue climb.
Firstly, Investors were turned off from investing after witnessing poor results in Canada. This made it harder for U.S. companies to expand and invest. Secondly, the safety measurements required during the pandemic made it harder to take on new staff. Social distancing, occupancy limits, and shelter-in-place orders limited the ability of staff members.
Now, with promising studies and no COVID restrictions, cannabis jobs may begin to hire a lot more. For example, thousands of well-paying jobs are on the horizon in New York due to the recent legalization earlier this year. In fact, Local 338, the “cannabis union”, is working towards representing thousands of workers in the cannabis market.
They are currently bargaining agreements with 6 different firms. They hope to gain contracts to grow and sell marijuana for medicinal purposes. Additionally, it’s negotiating a labor deal with a 7th company to represent pot workers in the recreational market.
Black Ownership in Cannabis Market
Cannabis continues to run as America’s fastest-growing industry, though 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. Despite being disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, Black people only make up single-digit ownership of the nation’s legalized cannabis market. This gap is far too wide.
Janessa Bailey is a culture editor at Leafly and author of Seeds of Change: Strategies to create an equitable cannabis industry. She believes that there are inequalities in the U.S. and those are reflected in a lot of different environments. “I would think it would be presumptuous to assume that the cannabis industry wasn’t also going to suffer from those same disparities — and then you put on additional layers like criminalization and healthcare.”
In her work, Bailey illustrates 8 social equity strategies:
- Mandate automatic expungement of cannabis records
- Establish equitable cannabis licensing systems
- Safeguard the rights and access of medical patients
- Allow home growing and regulate it reasonably
- Dedicate cannabis tax revenue to healing, not harm
- Gather robust data and share it widely
- Reduce stigma through proactive programs
- Support cannabis career development opportunities