To view Cannabis Business Times State of the Cannabis Cultivation Industry Report, click the image below.
There is much debate about the cause of the labor shortage in the U.S., but employers in many industries are reporting that it is incredibly difficult to find employees to fill available jobs.
Interestingly, while many other sectors of the U.S. economy struggled with hiring during the past year, this was not a top-cited problem in the cannabis cultivation industry, according to results from Cannabis Business Times’ 2021 “State of the Cannabis Cultivation Industry Report.”
For the past six years, CBT has taken the pulse of the cannabis cultivation market with the annual “State of the Cannabis Cultivation Industry Report,” asking readers to anonymously share information about how their companies have performed in the past year. Since 2018, CBT has asked participants to note their top three business challenges, and “finding employees” has never ranked among the top. That remained true in 2021’s report, even though hiring has been difficult for many other industries.
Each year, other more industry-specific struggles such as “compliance with local and/or state regulations” (2021: 34%), “financial management (including banking, 280E)” (31%) and “declining prices” (28%) have ranked higher. Comparatively, in 2021, 14% of cannabis cultivators who participated in the study cited hiring as a top challenge. Among 16 answer choices provided, “finding employees” ranked 10th. This has not changed since 2018, when 13% of participants noted hiring as among their top challenges. However, when looking at data from participants who extract and process cannabis exclusively, a slightly higher percentage (21%) cited hiring as a pressing challenge; but it remained lower than other industry threats.
While this doesn’t mean that hiring is easy in the cannabis industry, it’s one more example of how the market remains an interesting outlier.
Another example of this can be found in 2020 cannabis market growth. While the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced the U.S. economy overall shrank by 3.5% in 2020, representing the largest number in more than 70 years, according to the AP, the cannabis industry grew. According to CBT’s “State of the Cannabis Cultivation Industry Report,” nearly a third (31%) of cannabis cultivators noted increased revenue, 17% said there was no change, and only 5% said revenue decreased. And, 44% could not compare as their businesses have not been in operation for more than two years, meaning there continue to be many new entrants to the market.
According to BDSA, global cannabis sales reached $21.2 billion in 2020, a 48% year-over-year increase compared with 2019, as noted in Fast Stats. And, Leafly reported the industry created more than 77,000 jobs in 2020, a 32% jump from the previous year.
There are myriad reasons for this boom, including the fact that most states designated cannabis businesses essential during COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, consumer demand continued, and in some cases, increased during 2020, and adult-use markets like Illinois and Michigan had just come online. Despite the industry’s persistent and unique challenges due to its federally illegal status, and a pandemic that halted the world, the cannabis industry largely persevered. So far, there seems much to be optimistic and hopeful about in 2021, and beyond.
If passed, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act (House Bill 150), would allow anyone 21 years old and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis (including a maximum of 5 grams for concentrates) for personal use. Some medical producers in the state, however, claim that adult-use expansion would decimate their businesses. “I fear this introduction of this legislation will undercut the very program that these patients rely on,” Columbia Care Retail Director Sharice Ward told Delaware’s The News Journal. “How will the state guarantee products for our cancer and pediatric patients once the recreational market is established?”
Global cannabis sales once again reached all-time highs in 2020, climbing to $21.2 billion, according to data from BDSA. “Our previous forecast was conservative based on the expected economic fallout from the pandemic, but the industry not only survived, it thrived and legal cannabis gained considerable ground, exceeding our expectations in several markets,” said Micah Tapman, chief executive officer, BDSA in a press release.
Source: Brightfield Group
The interest in and popularity of delta-8 THC sneaked up on the CBD and cannabis industries—social media posts about delta-8 increased 550% from October 2020 to February 2021, according to Brightfield Group data.
Delta-8 is a variant of the well-known delta-9 THC cannabinoid. Though still psychoactive, delta-8 is reportedly less potent than delta-9. This makes it attractive to consumers who want less of an edge from their high. But unlike delta-9, delta-8 is being sold in CBD-friendly channels like vape shops and specialty retailers. This appeals to consumers in states without legal adult-use cannabis sales who are still looking for psychoactive effects, whether therapeutically or recreationally.
Hemp production is federally legal, which makes this cannabinoid easy to get in most places—especially online—and why many believe that delta-8 is legally in the clear. Because it is mainly derived from hemp CBD, in most states, it’s technically in a legal gray area, which is sparking conversations about how to proceed with the intricacies.
Now the questions of what happens next and whether bigger brands will jump on this bandwagon are up for debate.
“The competition CBD is feeling from delta-8 primarily impacts the cannabis and tobacco positioning for consumers who purchase through convenience stores and smoke or vape shops—these two channels together made up 7.3% of the CBD market in 2020,” Brightfield Group’s Managing Director Bethany Gomez explains. “As a result, some CBD brands are feeling a significant squeeze, while others that don’t compete in these channels are largely unaffected.”
Brightfield’s Q1 2021 CBD Consumer Insights survey asked CBD consumers if they were aware of delta-8 and whether they’d be likely to purchase it. Nearly one-fifth (19%) of CBD users are aware of delta-8, and 76% of those aware say they are “likely” or “very likely” to purchase it. Additionally, a recent vape and smoke shop survey from Brightfield showed some store owners reporting month over month triple-digit delta-8 sales growth starting in Q1 2021 as consumers become more aware of the cannabinoid.
Who is Purchasing Delta-8?
The consumers likely to purchase delta-8 have longer CBD usage histories, use more frequently, and prefer higher dosages, according to the survey. Being comfortable with CBD through experience, they are more open to trying products with delta-8.
Looking at purchase channels, those interested in delta-8 shop at smoke or vape stores and specialized CBD retailers more than the average CBD consumer. These channels were early to stock delta-8, so these consumers may have already been exposed to the cannabinoid.
CBD consumers interested in delta-8 are more likely to treat a mental health condition with CBD than the average consumer. Consumers actively treating mental health conditions with CBD may hope to find additional relief from delta-8. This especially applies to consumers who have used CBD with higher dosages for a long time. A high CBD tolerance may lead them to try a different cannabinoid if they haven’t done so already.
So, is delta-8 here to stay? Some states are pushing regulations on delta-8 to ensure compliance with existing state and federal laws as well as to curb any safety concerns. At least a dozen states have banned delta-8 products. But overall, many states are still grappling with cannabis (delta-9) regulations and various channels are seeing delta-8 products fly off the shelves. The jury is still out on delta-8’s availability on-shelf and online.
Madeline Obrzut is a content specialist for Brightfield Group.