A new report estimates the state’s legal cannabis industry will employ more than 63,000 people by 2025, about the same number of elementary school teachers in the state.
The projections are included in a report published earlier this month by a cannabis research firm that predicts total pot jobs in the country would hit nearly 745,000 that year — if the drug remains illegal on the federal level and no additional states legalize it for recreational or medical use.
The estimate for Illinois would mark a huge increase from the number of people currently working — legally — in the cannabis sector. The state’s medical pot industry now employs nearly 5,800 people, the report says.
While some cannabis-focused financial firms have invested in the Washington, D.C.-based New Frontier Data, which wrote the report, its research is considered independent and is widely cited in the industry.
With recreational legalization taking effect on Jan. 1, the total number of pot jobs in Illinois is expected to more than double each of the next two years and reach 29,407 by 2021. The estimates continue trending upward until 2025, when 63,406 people in Illinois are expected to hold cannabis-related jobs.
The projections account for the approximate number of jobs related to the sale, cultivation, processing, manufacturing, testing and distribution of marijuana. The report, however, doesn’t include estimates for jobs created by ancillary businesses that work around the industry, like security contractors, real estate companies and law firms.
Two types of budtenders
John Kagia, New Frontier’s executive vice president, said the bulk of the predicted jobs will likely be in either cultivation or retail.
“Those tend to be highly labor intensive in both regards,” Kagia said, stressing the “distinctions between the types of roles that you would see in each of those ecosystems.”
Kagia noted that grow operations are typically run by a “core, dedicated staff,” which can include cultivators, biochemists, botanists and structural engineers. Then, around harvest time, temporary workers are often hired to take on more labor-intensive tasks, like “moving the plants around [and] making sure they’re watered.”
“There’s a two-tiering of technical and non-technical roles, and it is often the case that the non-technical roles tend to outnumber the technical ones,” he said.
Many retail jobs are held by budtenders who sell cannabis products at licensed shops, according to Kagia, who said the role is still loosely defined. Some dispensary employees are extremely knowledgable about specific products and the science of cannabis, while others function “more like a Starbucks barista,” he said.
Kagia, who expects to see that divide become more pronounced, said the latter type of budtenders are “highly displaceable” and tend to see more job turnover and earn around minimum wage.
The total number of nationwide cannabis jobs is expected to climb from 340,344 this year to 743,196 in 2025, when Illinois’ jobs totals should trail only three states, the report states. By then, 123,567 people will be employed in the nation’s largest state cannabis industry in California, and Florida and Washington will respectively have 85,626 and 67,343 weed workers.
Both California and Washington have already fully legalized marijuana, but Florida only has a medical pot law on the books. An upcoming referendum that may appear on Florida’s 2020 ballot could change that by legalizing the drug for anyone over 21 years old.
$98 billion if legalized nationally
Another model included in the report looks at what would happen if pot was legalized nationwide. Annual revenues would reach nearly $98 billion by 2025, the authors state. Nearly half of that amount, $47 billion, would ultimately go to the federal government in taxes.
The theoretical model envisions an industry unencumbered by weed’s classification as a dangerous Schedule I drug, which prevents cannabis firms from using traditional financial services and taking advantage of certain tax deductions. While the banking issue could be resolved by legislation awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate, Kagia said the current “taxation regime” will likely continue to serve “as a drogue on growth and expansion.”
That’s “simply because these businesses, despite how lucrative some have been, are not able to recapitalize in the way other sectors might be able to,” he added.
Under the theoretical model, more than 1.6 million people would be employed in the country’s pot industry by 2025, with 66,728 of them working in Illinois. (That assumes also that 25 percent of the industry would still be underground.)
As a comparison, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last May there were 65,630 non-special education elementary school teachers in the state.