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Employment growth in the cannabis sector does not seem to be slowing anytime soon.

The legal cannabis industry now supports 321,000 workers in the United States, with more than 77,000 jobs created in 2020. That’s an increase of around 32% in the 37 states and the District of Columbia with medical or adult markets, according to a report by Leafly.

While cannabis companies were not immune to layoffs and vacations during the COVID-19 outbreak, a lull broke out between March and August as the number of employees rebounded and many operations flourished during the pandemic. The year-over-year growth has shown that the cannabis sector has created jobs faster than almost any other American industry, according to Leafly.

James Yagielo, the CEO of HempStaff, a Miami-based recruiting and training company that specializes in the cannabis and hemp industries, said Leafly’s 32% increase didn’t leave him open-mouthed.

“It wasn’t really surprising because it was an essential business, so it really narrowed a lot of the different industries down because a lot of the industries aren’t essential,” he said. “So I think this has definitely skewed the numbers in favor of cannabis. But while last year has been a terrible year for most people, our recruitment numbers were pretty much in line with 2019. We didn’t get the increase we expected, but we didn’t really lose weight either. “

When September 2020 hit, job growth in the industry accelerated again, Yagielo said.

“We had a boom, say after Labor Day in the cannabis industry, when we did that [this] The day goes on, ”he said. “While we had those few months off, she recovered when they realized that the pandemic would not harm the cannabis industry.”

The 32% increase in employment growth in the cannabis sector came at a time when the U.S. economy was contracting 3.5% in 2020, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Though the cannabis industry may seem recession-proof to some, Vangst, a Denver-based recruiting platform that connects cannabis job seekers with employees, reported that 80% of their customers had to lay off employees or take leave if the orders were left for home at the beginning of COVID- 19 said CEO Karson Humiston.

“Nobody knew how the cannabis industry would react to its first economic downturn,” she said. “And at the end of the day, cannabis was seen as essential, and businesses were doing well, and people kept buying and using cannabis, but no one knew this was going to happen. And so capital stopped blowing into space, which is a big driver of expansion, and companies really put on hold on their growth and expansion plans to see how the year would play out. “

By the end of the year, companies were back on track with their hiring plans, Humiston said.

“Fortunately, the year has been great and the election results have been great. I think that prepares us for huge growth potential for jobs and cannabis in 2021 and beyond,” she said.

With the rise in hiring in 2020, the U.S. cannabis industry is now supporting almost as many jobs as firefighters in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As employment continues to warm, salaries and benefits in the sector are also rising, Humiston said. According to Vangst’s 2020 Cannabis Industry Salary Guide, published last month, 83% of the cannabis companies surveyed by Vangst offer paid time off, 73% offer health insurance, 63% offer dental insurance, 62% offer vision insurance, 28% offer stock or equity options and 29% offer 401 (k) packages – an increase of more than 10% over the previous year.

“You have to remember that the cannabis industry is a startup,” said Humiston. “The entire industry is a startup. This is one of the most immature market industries in the country, and yet they offer these great advantages and are getting better every year. I think this industry is doing an excellent job in terms of paying its employees and the benefits it offers. “

According to anonymous questionnaires distributed to teams of companies that applied for the program, many employees are not satisfied with their salaries and performance, according to the Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary’s recent Best Cannabis To Work For Research. Feedback showed that 65% of growers at Best Cannabis Companies agreed that their pay was fair for the work they did, while that number was 59% for companies that applied but didn’t rank. Those numbers were 78% for pharmacy workers who work for top companies and 60% for others.

Budtenders, trimmers / post harvesters, packers, and deliverers in the selected 15 states surveyed in Vangst’s guide made an average of $ 15 to $ 16 an hour during some of the higher-paying jobs, like vice presidents of retail, manufacturing, or sales and Cultivation or extraction directors all earned average salaries in the range of $ 105,000 to $ 160,000.

At HempStaff, Yagielo said the biggest raise his company has seen is testing lab supervisors.

“There are many testing labs across the country trying to go online when there aren’t a lot of people who are your high level PhD students. Scientists to set up a laboratory, ”he said. “So we’ve seen lab supervisors pay more than $ 200,000 a year recently. You’re usually looking for a PhD. in chemistry or something like that. “

When new states pass medical or adult cannabis programs, there is often a huge rush to move high-level managers to those states, whether it be for growing, extracting, manufacturing, retailing, or testing laboratory operations, Yagielo said. And once these people are relocated, they start hiring their local staff, he said.

“And these newer states tend to raise salaries to seduce people because there won’t be that many growers wanting to leave a state like Colorado, it’s perfectly legal to go to a Mississippi. [which just passed medical cannabis legalization in the November 2020 election]”Said Yagielo.

According to Leafly, more than 35,500 Coloradans are employed in the cannabis industry, where sales began in 2014 and grossed $ 2.2 billion in 2020. Colorado is only surpassed by California, which supported around 58,000 cannabis jobs in a $ 4.4 billion market in 2020.

In New Jersey, where Governor Phil Murphy signed a law to legalize adult cannabis on February 22, after voters approved the constitutional amendment, the number of people employed in the sector will be passed in the first year of a program, Humiston is said to be valued at 25,000.

“That’s a lot of brand new jobs in addition to all of the tax revenue that will be created,” she said. “I mean, cannabis creates jobs, periods, and helps communities help people at work.”

When asked if some of the more mature markets like Colorado and California will keep pace with future job growth, Humiston said she wasn’t seeing this anytime soon.

“The nice thing is that more and more consumers are entering the market every year,” she said. “There is a whole population of people who have never tried cannabis. As these consumers continue to become customers, the businesses continue to grow. So we’ve certainly seen some degree of consolidation, but if you look at the market trends, the market has continued to grow every year since it was legalized. And as the market grows, which means just general cannabis sales, more employees will be needed. “

With the need for more employees, the need for job-seekers, who are not scarce for many entry-level positions, also increases. Yagielo said he saw between 100 and 300 resumes for each open position, with the number for budget tender positions in the upper range. But future demand could come via factory jobs, he said.

While cannabis job growth continues to boom, the United States’ industrial hemp industry flattened over the past year due to market saturation with insufficient factories to support it, Yagielo said.

“Unfortunately, by the time you get more of these factories, there’s a lot of hemp that’s going moldy in people’s barns,” he said. “When [more infrastructure is created]I think your job market is going to explode because factories take thousands of people to run them. “

Both Humiston and Yagielo stated that there was a direct link between the entry of more capital into the space and the increase in hiring in the industry.

In addition to more states looking to legalize cannabis, federal funding options would bring a new round of capital into the industry, Humiston said. The Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) banking law – proposed legislation on the disposition of funds raised by the cannabis industry in the United States – would open those doors, she said.

In other words, some companies that have the financial resources to join space in the industry haven’t pulled the trigger without some federal financial confidence.

“I think the other big factor outside of states that are legalized is companies that have access to capital,” said Humiston. “As companies can adopt more traditional funding options, they can grow, expand and hire more people. So I think SAFE Banking is a big bill that everyone is paying attention to in the hope that this will catch on.

“And right as more investors become familiar with the space, capital will lead to growth. The number one thing that people do when they grow is attitude.”