The cannabis industry in California, and across the US, is off to the races. While regulatory compliance remains the overriding concern, a new and unexpected issue is developing. With established cannabis businesses experiencing surges of growth, and new businesses opening on a daily basis, a competitive hiring environment has emerged. While there will never be a shortage of entry-level applicants, the pool of experienced professionals is small for areas like accounting, information technology, and C-suite operations. Further exacerbating the shortage, regulatory bodies have joined the fray with hundreds of government jobs opening in California alone.

How Many Cannabis Jobs are There Today?

It is unusually difficult to track cannabis job totals because federal laws do not allow unique NAICS codes for the industry, which is the standard for employment data in the US. Undeterred, many organizations have sought to estimate job numbers through a combination of economic forecasting and queries to cannabis businesses. Leafly performed an in-depth analysis in January of last year, and estimated there were 122,814 full-time cannabis jobs in the US at the date of publication. (It’s worth a reminder that California had not yet joined the adult-use cannabis business.)

Marijuana Business Daily published their own report in June, 2017, and estimated there were between 165,000 and 230,000 full- and part-time workers in the cannabis industry. Their analysis also contained comparisons that suggested there were more cannabis workers than dental hygienists, bakers and massage therapists in the US.

ZipRecruiter.com tracked the number of job postings for the cannabis industry and notes a 445% spike in 2017, following the 2016 election cycle which saw nine more states add adult-use or medical cannabis legalization laws. There was another major jump in Q4 of 2017 as the number of cannabis industry job posts increased 693% year-over-year and 79% quarter-over-quarter. The significant growth is attributed to the industry preparing for the launch of adult-use cannabis sales in Q1 of 2018 in the huge California market.

Top 10 Markets for Cannabis Jobs

Per ZipRecruiter.com

Will Cannabis Job Growth Continue?

While economic forecasting is always difficult, analysis of the cannabis industry is especially complex. There are a number of unpredictable situations that could result in major changes for the cannabis industry. On the optimistic side, more states could pass adult-use legalization laws, further expanding the industry. Or the federal government could de-Schedule cannabis, opening the way for true legalization free from conflicting federal laws. On the flip-side, the current administration could begin enforcing federal laws, which could stymy or completely shut down the nascent industry.

Looking to the future, a recent report by data analytics firm New Frontier Analytics predicted that the legal cannabis industry could create over 280,000 jobs by 2020. This is a conservative estimate, as it only accounts for states with medical and adult-use laws on the books at the time of the analysis, and does not adjust for the likelihood that other states will pass laws and join the legal cannabis industry.

Additionally, in recent weeks signs of positive change have come from the federal government. As reported by the Washington Post, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) released a statement saying that President Trump has assured him he will not interfere with Colorado’s cannabis laws. The Food and Drug Administration announced that they unanimously support the first-ever government approval of medicine derived from the cannabis plant (not synthetic) and are paving the way for clearance by the end of June. And finally, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is continuing his efforts to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp. A cause he has vocally supported as a way to bring agriculture jobs back to Kentucky.

Individually, the aforementioned changes may not equal lasting legislative change. But taken together, they could represent a general shift toward greater acceptance for cannabis and related industries.

Difficulties Hiring for an Emerging Industry

While the surge in new and growing cannabis businesses certainly creates higher demand for qualified workers, it isn’t the only factor making hiring in the cannabis industry difficult. The industry’s fraught and complex history has created an environment with a shallow pool of candidates with direct cannabis industry experience.

Legal adult-use cannabis markets are a recent innovation in the US. Before Colorado’s legalization in 2014, and the surge of legal states in 2016, only a handful of states had medical marijuana laws. The majority of operations in these states were small in number and limited in scope by necessity, as the tide of legalization was far from ensured, and before the Obama-era Cole Memo, federal crackdowns were a looming threat. As a result, there weren’t nearly as many opportunities for professionals to get hands-on experience in the industry. And even those working full-time jobs at small- and medium-scale operations were not necessarily exposed to the complex financial and operational challenges facing commercial-scale cannabis businesses today.

As a result, many cannabis organizations have turned to professionals from parallel industries whose skills may cross-over. Common industries targeted include food and beverage, distribution, and agriculture. Yet even with this expanded range of potential hires, further challenge arise in identifying and connecting with professionals who are willing to shift careers and join the cannabis industry.

“It is a struggle for any business to find talented and experienced staff. In the cannabis space, those difficulties are only compounded because this industry is in its infancy,” said Paula Saidy, the ELLO Outsourced Services leader. “It’s exciting to help cannabis businesses, who often are growing so fast, their only limitation is their ability to hire qualified talent quickly.”

The good news for the cannabis industry is that skills in areas like finance/accounting, human resources, information technology, and executive leadership, tend to follow commonly accepted business best practices. With a healthy amount of training and/or internal support, professionals with skills in these areas can have a positive impact on cannabis organizations.

Connecting Experienced Professionals with an Emerging Industry

The exponential growth of the cannabis industry has been a great boon to entrepreneurs and business owners. But as profits increase and operations scale up, the increased complexity creates the need for qualified talent to provide guidance that supports responsible growth. While cannabis businesses are strong in their core areas – cultivation, distribution, retail, etc. – their organizations often lack specialized skills like finance and accounting, human resources, information technology, and C-suite operations, including CFO, COO, and even CEO.

ELLO has launched the Staffing Solutions service offering to connect dynamic, growing cannabis operations with experienced talent that can guide them to the next level. This service combines ELLO’s regulatory compliance and cannabis industry knowledge with a qualified network of seasoned professionals.

If you’d like to learn more or schedule a consultation, please contact us.