The legal marijuana industry is growing faster than almost any other business in the United States as more states approve marijuana for recreational and medicinal use.
A new report from the industry analyst company Leafly and Whitney Economics shows the legal marijuana industry added 77,000 new jobs in 2020. Nationally, the industry supports about 321,000 jobs, a 32-percent increase over the previous year — at a time when the broader economy shrank by 3.5 percent.
That figure represents jobs in only 37 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, where marijuana is legal for either recreational or medical consumption.
“At a time when workers across many sectors were being laid off amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, it seems that the cannabis industry was actually adding jobs — and in a big way,” said Tom Angell, editor and publisher of the Marijuana Moment newsletter.
There are nearly twice as many workers in the legal marijuana sector as there are in mining industries, according to data maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of cannabis workers is larger than the number of Americans who work in medical and diagnostic laboratories, and it nearly rivals the 325,000 Americans employed in the performing arts or spectator sports.
About half as many people work in the legal marijuana business as work for the U.S. Postal Service.
“It’s no surprise that cannabis jobs are growing fast, because cannabis markets are growing fast,” said Taylor West, a political strategist and former top official at the National Cannabis Industry Association. “New states are coming online, older markets are hitting their stride, and the stigma of decades past continues to dwindle.”
Sales of legal marijuana products boomed to $18.3 billion in 2020, a 71 percent increase over the previous year that researchers attributed to customers stocking up to make it through months of stay-at-home orders. The average consumer spent 33 percent more marijuana products per sale.
Legal marijuana stores saw a significant increase in sales in April, just after the lockdowns took effect, and that increase persisted through the rest of the year.
More than 57,000 Californians are employed in the industry, where sales boomed to $3.7 billion in 2020, up almost 80 percent over last year. The industry accounted for more than 30,000 jobs in Colorado and Florida, and 20,000 in Arizona, where voters approved a legal marijuana regime in 2020 and where sales of recreational pot began only last month.
Residents spent more than $1 billion on legal pot in Colorado, Florida, Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Illinois last year, the report found. Sales neared the billion-dollar mark in Michigan, too, where voters approved a recreational marijuana ballot measure in 2018.
West said the unique nature of the cannabis industry, which is largely prevented from operating across state lines by federal law that still treats marijuana as a banned substance, has meant growth in areas that other industries might not have created for efficiency’s sake.
“Cannabis sold in Illinois has to be grown in Illinois. Cannabis sold in Colorado has to be grown in Colorado,” she said. “That means a certain amount of replicated jobs from one state to the next that might have been consolidated in a less regulated industry.”
The report found the marijuana business remains one of the least diverse in the nation, and minority-owned businesses make up only a tiny fraction of the overall industry. Though comprehensive data is not available, only an estimated 1.2 percent to 1.7 percent of marijuana businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs. By contrast, 13 percent of America’s population is Black.
In Illinois, where the state expects to issue 75 new cannabis store licenses this year, none of the finalists are spearheaded by minorities. In Massachusetts, just three of the 260 retail cannabis stores are run by Black owners.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana sales for recreational purposes. Several other states, including New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, are considering legislation that would allow recreational pot. Thirty-five states have a medical marijuana regime in place.
“As lawmakers act to allow new legal markets to come online in more states, more Americans are able to get good marijuana jobs. And that's with just 15 states having legalized it recreationally so far. It seems clear that this trend will continue during 2021 legislative sessions and the 2022 election cycle,” Angell said.
Only two states — Nebraska and Idaho — do not allow marijuana sales for any reason.