Weed Is Providing Jobs During COVID-19 Shutdowns When Other Industries Cannot
The cannabis industry is showing the business world how it’s done. Legalize this plant already.
Published on April 23, 2020

The state-legal cannabis industries are doing a lot more than just providing medicine and dank stress relief during the coronavirus pandemic. They’re providing quality jobs with decent pay to a nation that’s experiencing record unemployment right now, too. 

As of this week, at least 26.5 million Americans are unemployed due to the economic downturn caused by coronavirus lockdowns. This is the highest level of unemployment seen in the US since the Great Depression. On the other hand, the legal weed industry currently employs an estimated 211,000 Americans, and many more job opportunities will be created as more states legalize the plant. 

While the federal government considers marijuana a drug just as dangerous and medically useless as heroin, eight US states have deemed licensed weed businesses as “essential” or “critical” services, meaning they can remain open in lieu of state-ordered business closures. Several weed-legal states such as California, Oregon, and Arizona are seeing sky-high levels of weed purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Meanwhile, in Colorado, many pot shops are experiencing lower-than-average sales due to a significant drop in tourism. However, the Centennial State recently launched a recruitment program that easily transitions furloughed casino workers into the weed industry. Both casino gambling and recreational marijuana are legal in Colorado.

Last month, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock attempted to close recreational weed stores as part of a city-wide lockdown. But the lockdown announcement prompted Denver residents to flock to pot shops in droves, threatening social distancing precautions and potentially hastening the spread of the coronavirus in Colorado’s capital. Sure enough, Hancock retracted that part of the order, and everything’s been relatively chill ever since (relatively).

In Illinois, one woman told the Chicago Tribune about how the state's new legal weed industry saved her from eviction. Kayla Jarzab worked as a restaurant server for three years before Governor Pritzker declared a shutdown order on March 15. Her employer, unable to keep her on staff with the sudden loss of business, let her go.

“This is the first time I’ve been laid off,” she said. “It is just so insane to think about. I really just had a moment of, 'This is truly happening to me. I’m not going back to work the next day.’”

Without a paycheck, Jarzab began making all of her purchases on a credit card. She couldn’t make rent, but her landlord gave her an extension. Frantically, she applied to every business in her area, but she didn’t get any call-backs. As time was running out, she took her chances applying at a nearby dispensary. And that’s when her luck finally changed.

Now, Jarzab works at one of Illinois’s five Sunnyside dispensaries. Her customer service skills as a server translated well to her new job directing patrons into, throughout, and outside of the pot shop. Once she gets her state-licensed agent card, she’ll be able to handle sales directly inside of Sunnyside. 

And here’s the cherry on top: Jarzab is making $18 an hour. She made more on busy days at her old restaurant, but her new hourly wage is consistent, and it’s well over twice the state’s minimum wage of $8.25.

In fact, most positions in the legal weed industry pay fairly well for being “unskilled labor” (let’s be honest here: All labor requires specialized skills). According to market data, employees in the legal weed industry typically make between $12 to $20 an hour, depending on the position and level of experience. According to Vangst, annual salaries in director or management positions can net $50,000 to $190,000. Some larger pot businesses also offer benefits on top of pay, such as health or life insurance. 

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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