US Cannabis Industry Now Employs Almost Half a Million Workers
The legal weed industry created an average of 280 jobs per day last year, up 33 percent from 2020.
Published on February 25, 2022

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America's legal cannabis industry currently employs nearly twice as many full-time workers than it did in 2019, according to a new report by Leafly and Whitney Economics.

In 2021, state-legal weed businesses created 107,509 new jobs, a 33 percent increase over the 77,300 positions offered in 2020. Last year's unprecedented growth, which averages out to 280 new jobs every single day, marks the fifth straight year that the cannabis job market has grown by more than 27 percent. In contrast, traditional business and financial job markets have only grown by around 8 percent in that same time frame.

As of this January, 428,059 Americans are working full-time jobs in the cannabis sector, up from 321,000 in 2020. This year's total is nearly double the 243,700 jobs offered in 2019, and 249 percent higher than the 122,800 jobs created in 2017. In addition to “plant-touching” jobs like cultivators, trimmers, processors, and dispensary clerks, this list also includes ancillary work, like accounting, security, legal affairs, media, PR, regulatory compliance, and hundreds of other positions.

Sunny California is still the country's largest cannabis employer, with a total of 83,607 full-time employees. In 2021, legal weed retailers moved over $5 billion worth of product, a 15 percent boost from 2020. But as strong as the Golden State's weed industry is, state regulations are actually holding back its growth. California currently has some of the highest adult-use taxes in the country, and over 70 percent of jurisdictions ban local cannabis sales. As a result, the local black market continues to outsell the legal industry.

These restrictions may allow other adult-use states to catch up with California’s growth. Michigan's legal weed industry made $1.79 billion in sales last year, up 81 percent from 2020, and now supports 31,152 jobs, a 72 percent annual increase. Massachusetts also saw an 81 percent boost in annual sales and supports 27,172 jobs. Illinois' legal weed industry is thriving as well, despite the fact that it has only allowed 103 adult-use stores to open so far. State regulators are working to approve another 185 more retail licenses, though, which would provide a sizable boost to the nearly 29,000 weed jobs currently offered.

And while most of these jobs come from the adult-use industry, many are also supported by medical marijuana markets operating in 37 states. Florida made $1.5 billion in medical pot sales in 2021, more than Oregon's adult-use market sold that same year. The Sunshine State opened nearly 100 new dispensaries last year and now employs 25,895 full-time weed workers.

The cannabis job market is going to expand even further this year, since 5 more states voted to legalize adult-use retail sales in 2021 and more are expected to do so in 2022. New York and New Jersey, two states with limited medical marijuana industries that only support two to three thousand jobs each, will need to hire thousands of employees to support their new adult-use markets. Connecticut and Vermont also plan to kick off adult-use sales this year, and Virginia may also do so sometime before 2024.

“At a time when the rest of the economy is struggling and people are leaving their jobs in droves, the legal cannabis industry is blooming, showing exponential employment growth, and attracting talented and driven individuals from across the workforce,” said NORML Political Director Morgan Fox in a statement. “Yet, outdated federal laws define these same people as criminals and as a result, they are frequently denied access to banking services, housing, education, international travel, and citizenship. It is long past time for Congress to end prohibition and start treating this robust regulated market like any other industry.”

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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