On the homepage of the New York Times earlier this week: “More Workers Quit Than Ever as U.S. Job Openings Remain Near Record.”
The news story cites U.S. Department of Labor survey results published Jan. 4 that set the ongoing economic tension in stark relief. Even as inflation rises, workers are leaving behind jobs at astonishing numbers and for myriad reasons—chief among them stagnant wages.
The cannabis industry, which clocked around $26 billion in sales in 2021, may not be entirely immune from the trend, but it’s certainly a bit protected by virtue of its rapid expansion across the U.S. and its sky-high ceiling for growth in the otherwise uncertain years to come. Early last year, Leafly released a formal jobs report that found at least 321,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the industry—and that number was expected to grow steadily.
David Belsky, CEO of recruitment firm FlowerHire, says that cannabis finds itself in an interesting position as an industry with no real (legal) history of employment. It’s a regulated space that’s emerged from advocacy efforts and political headwinds in the past 10 or so years, and its growth now demands new workers from a variety of backgrounds—including horticulture, certainly, but also financial management, retail, interior design, corporate communications, insurance and so on.
A lot of service-based industries, like hospitality, have faced a sudden demand crunch amid the pandemic. Elsewhere, consumer-packaged goods and the light industrial space are facing a supply crunch.
According to FlowerHire’s research, 80% of the demand for work in the cannabis space is materializing outside of California, painting a picture that newer markets on the East Coast or in the Midwest, for instance, are driving that sense of growth. This is a national industry, however fragmented it may be.
The breadth of cannabis makes it an interesting foil for the resignation narrative we’re seeing elsewhere.
“There’s actual growth of opportunity in the cannabis industry,” Belsky says. “Light industrial jobs have been going away forever, retail has been consolidating. These companies in those sort of old-world industries, if you will, are not hiring again. People, after experiencing the last couple years, have really begun to ask, ‘What am I doing? What am I doing with my time? What should I be doing?’ In cannabis specifically, it's unique as a job creator for that 90% because the industry itself is going to hire hundreds of thousands of people in the next decade that have never worked professionally in cannabis. And you can actually go get a job in cannabis and work your way up through your own effort and work ethic and, and desire to be successful.”
Toward the end of 2021, Lume, a Michigan-based, vertically integrated cannabis company, announced that it had hired its 1,000th employee.
"When I first joined Lume Cannabis Co. in 2019, we had just 75 employees. Fast-forward a little over two years and we now employ 1,000 people and counting in great paying jobs with high-quality benefits," Lume president and Chief Operating Officer Doug Hellyar said in a public statement. "Our explosive growth over the last two years makes Lume one of the fastest-growing, privately owned companies in Michigan. Every member of our team is integral to showing cannabis in a new light and I want to thank every single one of them for their hard work and determination."
The news came alongside the opening of Lume’s 26th dispensary in Michigan. By 2024, Hellyar said, the goal is to have 100 Lume dispensaries open in the state.
Growth like that tracks with the general sense of momentum that the industry is seeing in greener regions: the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, New England, even the South. Belsky points to those relatively newer state markets as powerhouses of opportunity.
“The biggest job creation engines in cannabis are east of Mississippi,” he says. “And what's interesting is that, even three or four years ago, when I started in California, there was still a stigma about working in the industry. Even to hire in California! But there's not the same level of stigma anymore, even in these emerging markets—even when there haven’t yet necessarily been cannabis jobs present. A lot of that comes back to the idea that cannabis might actually be a more stable industry than other industries, which is the world flipped upside on its head."
So, what’s next?
In the absence of a working crystal ball, Belsky points to state markets that currently up and running—but in need of greatly expanded supply. States like Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, he says: Cannabis markets like that are where entrepreneurs or prospective employees might look for future licensing expansion. Illinois’ expansion is under way (even if it’s stumbling), and New Jersey is preparing now for a hotly anticipated adult-use market, for example. But opportunities in the burgeoning U.S. cannabis industry are legion.
“I actually am very bullish on Florida, to be honest with you,” Belsky says. “I think Florida could be our biggest state [in 2022], if not second-biggest. This is partly because a lot of MSOs are moving their headquarters down there, but also because a lot of those other licenses that have been dormant … are going to be opening for business in 2022. Obviously, every one of those licenses, based on the regulatory structure, comes with hundreds if not thousands of jobs. I think Florida is going to be a major driver, based on what I'm seeing.”