The coronavirus has put tens of millions of Americans out of work, with the national unemployment rate reaching 14.7%. That’s worse than the financial crisis in the 2009 financial crisis, worse than we saw after 9/11, and the worse since we’ve seen since World War II.
During the great depression, the U.S. jobless rate peaked at 25.6%. In Nevada right now, the damage to tourism in the U.S. has shown tremendously, sending the state’s unemployment rate surging over that of the Great Depression, with 28.2% of people unemployed there right now.
While many of those jobs should, in theory, come back once the economy gets up and moving again, many will not, as companies tank and restaurants and other businesses are forced to file for bankruptcy or close. The world is also likely to change in ways that eliminate certain businesses that simply can’t adjust to the measures necessary to keep people safe.
Of all the businesses that are taking a hit, and those that may never recover, there is one industry that’s booming to the point where it’s consistently hiring people nationwide: Marijuana.
Marijuana-related industries were considered “essential businesses” in many states during the coronavirus, permitted to stay up running and vending. These companies adjusted rapidly to the needs of social distancing mandates and flourished in sales as people sought to home-treat anxiety brought on by the pandemic.
Marijuana dispensaries are now offering more delivery options and have given more attention to the ease of use on their websites. More people seem to be browsing online rather than coming to the stores themselves. Within the dispensaries that are still open for people to browse inside, people are asked to stay six feet apart, and cash registers have been outfitted with plastic barriers between the cashier and the customer.
And, perhaps the most drastic change, dispensaries are now offering curbside pickup. Customers call ahead or order online, drive up, call to let the workers at the dispensary know they’re there, and have their cannabis products brought straight out to the car for an experience that is as close to contact-free delivery as the industry can allow.
An industry in flux
During the coronavirus pandemic, marijuana companies have seen massive ups and downs. At first, there seemed to be a lot of purchases; then people started hoarding their extra cash, and sales leveled out; then more pot companies were deemed essential, and many stores reported their highest sales they’d ever had. Now, things are looking up overall.
A couple of companies are doing extremely well. Canopy Growth Crop, for instance, got a $4 billion investment from Constellation Brands Inc, the company that distributes Corona beer. That’s kept their stock market value on a steady uptick, frequently reporting percentage increases over 8%. And Canadian-based company Cronos Group Inc. is being eyed by MarketWatch as a particularly profitable company, with $1.51 billion in cash. Green Thumb Industries Inc., Trulieve Cannabis Corp., and Curaleaf Holdings Inc. are all doing well, too.
Wikileaf even reported in April that one dispensary chose to give its employees a raise during the pandemic.
In March of 2019, CNBC reported that the marijuana industry was booming. Economists say that sector added 64,389 jobs over the course of the year 2018, which was a 44% gain from the year before. The highest concentration of those jobs are in areas that allow for both medical and recreational use.
In May of this year, business was still booming, even as the coronavirus raged on. There are now a total of 300,000 people in the United States whose full-time jobs are directly dependent on the cannabis industry. 211,000 of those workers are employed directly by cannabis companies.
States relaxing their laws against cannabis leads to job growth
Part of the uptick is attributable to the growing number of states legalizing recreational cannabis. It’s now legal in the District of Columbia and 11 states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Still more states are expected to join that list within the next year or two. Those include Florida, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.
33 states allow medical marijuana use of some sort.
More legalization means more jobs. Right now, support for legalization of recreational cannabis hovers at about 66% nationwide. That number has been trending steeply upward for the past 20 years. And in these times of deep political divide, marijuana seems to be something people of all parties agree on. In 2019, 51% of Republicans supported legalization (down 2% from the year before), as did 76% of Democrats and 68% of Independents.
The drug is, however, still illegal at a federal level. That poses problems for small businesses that need federal stimulus money under the CARES Act, capitalize on the Paycheck Protection Program, get an advance on EIDL Loans, or hope to take out loans under the Small Business Administration.
Glassdoor, a company that keeps track of open jobs and analyzes different markets, found that the number of jobs available in the cannabis industry is high, and the positions are very diverse. The most common job opening in 2019 was “Brand Ambassador” which is a position where someone helps promote particular cannabis products to sell to stores and customers. Sales Associate was the second-most in-demand cannabis job in 2019, followed by Store Manager.
Marijuana development and distribution requires tons of technical workers like accountants and tax professionals, lab workers, and marketing experts. Those positions made up 53% of the open cannabis jobs in 2019, according to Glassdoor. That’s also good new for the median income in the industry. Since the average employee is a professional and therefore gets paid more, the median salary for those in the marijuana business is 10.7% higher than the national average, at $58,511.
Some experts believe what follows in the coming year for the cannabis industry will be difficult to predict. Although some areas are doing quite well right now, their ability to bounce back may be hindered by the lack of federal money available. However, sales from dispensaries have maintained good numbers, thanks to deliveries and curbside pickups. The future of the industry, both in what companies flourish and in what the business model may look like in the coming years, is anyone’s guess.