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Wednesday April 15, 2020

By Andrew Ward


The cannabis industry fared better than other markets in the weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic took effect on the United States. Cannabis may not represent a large slice of the record 6.6 million Americans to file for unemployment last week, but it still made up a portion of the group. Those losing their jobs range from independent workers to employees at top companies in the space. In some cases, hundreds of workers have been furloughed or laid off, citing COVID-19 as the cause. Some estimates project that 37 million domestic jobs may end up cut in the process.

With staggering job losses underway and more expected, some are left wondering what’s next. That wonder is particularly true in cannabis, where job losses were already underway. With the market reeling, now is the time to review the situation and determine what may lie ahead for the American cannabis job market.

Cannabis Industry Job Losses Continue

2020 could be a year of devastating job loss. Unfortunately, that is not something new to the marijuana sector. After a booming market, rife with investment money and brand growth, the bull market turned bearish on the backs of underperforming companies. As a result, funding became more difficult to obtain as revenue didn't meet expectations. In turn, companies needed to get out of debt. Often, one of the first measures is to cut jobs and job sites.

The industry was already experiencing layoffs before the coronavirus pandemic. photo credit

Such happenings occurred in cannabis throughout 2019. Top names from virtually every sector slashed workers. They included delivery giants Eaze, as well as vape tech giants Pax. Dispensary names like MedMen laid off 190 workers in October 2019, in addition to selling off assets to stay afloat. The same situation happened north of the border in Canada. There, notable industry names like Hexo, Aurora, Canopy and others all took similar actions.

The industry was already wondering when its hardship would turn around by the end of the winter. At the same time, many wondered what the market would do if a more massive economic recession were to set in.

Enter: COVID-19.

In short order, the historic pandemic swept out years of stock market gains, destroying careers and possibly industries in the process. Canopy Growth, Aurora and Tilray were just a few to cut jobs. Layoffs continued across the market. They include cannabis-centric events, public relations and various other sectors of the space feeling the effects.

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COVID-19 has impacted many aspects of the cannabis industry. photo credit

At this current time, no specific numbers around job losses in the industry have come about. However, the losses are undoubtedly staggering. To the job losses, temp staffing has spiked in cannabis in recent weeks, providing relief to some degree. While some jobs may offer inroads to permanent roles, the long-term future of millions of others remains in flux.

Marijuana Industry Experts Weigh In

Job losses in the sector appear not to have rattled company leaders and their long-term thinking. With the “essential” status bestowed on the industry during the pandemic, many believe that much of the industry can weather these trying, uncertain times. In time, several forecast jobs and business prospects will be back on the rise.

Trevor Reeves, head of growth for cannabis track and trace software Canix, told PotGuide that marijuana ventures "are poised to profit considerably" on the heels of the essential status. Despite a downturn in the market, Reeves sees a path of success during the crisis. "Recession-proof goods, like alcohol, trend positive during times of economic down-turn, and cannabis will follow a similar path."

Reeves added that dispensaries will see staff shortages in quarantine. Outdoor grows should be fine, though indoor cultivators may have an uncertain road ahead, he predicted.

Sam Williamson, owner of CBDiablo in the United Kingdom, said business in the CBD should boom post-COVID-19. Williamson reported a high level of interest in potential health benefits from consumers with a variety of health conditions. "I believe this will open up jobs within the CBD industry as more companies look to deal with the questions they're being asked in an accurate and sensitive manner."

The CBD brand owner emphasized the importance on fact-based information to continue industry growth and market interest. "To ensure the cannabis industry survives this period, we cannot afford to have any false information out there about the substance.” Williamson spoke about the effects of companies making such false claims. "These claims will do more harm than good as it will make cannabis seem like a scam. We need to be honest with people about the health benefits - they definitely exist, but it is not a miracle cure."

Specific Cannabis Sectors to Watch

The essential status of cannabis won’t be forgotten by any in the space. Ellie Siegel, CEO and founder of Longview Strategic, too, believes the distinction will lead to growth for the market, in talent and status. "This will lead to a deeper and more diverse talent pool as other industries shed workers and stigma reduction continues for the industry overall."

During the quarantine, Siegel warns that ancillary products and third-party vendors could see harm to their businesses. If so, this could lead to issues in the supply chain for dispensaries and customers alike.

Once out of the status quo, a new normal is likely to take effect. Cannabis, like other fields, will see roles shift. The industry advisory and insights executive highlighted changes in security, maintenance and retail work, including a focus on virus-related operating procedures. Delivery drivers, a pivotal component to retail locations during the quarantine, will likely expand, according to Siegel.

Marijuana delivery jobs are expected to spike in the coming months. photo credit

One of the most in-demand roles may come on the lawmaking side of the industry, said Siegel. "Legislators, lobbyists, advocates, consumers, and professionals are all needed to support legal cannabis reforms that empower safe consumption and the development of an industry that can convert illicit players into legal participants.”

With the market still figuring itself out, all one can do is be safe today. Tomorrow will come soon enough. The cannabis community’s resiliency is sure to come along with it.

How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will affect the cannabis industry and job market in the long run? Share your thoughts, insights and concerns in the comments below.

Photo Credit: James Yarema (license)


Andrew Ward Andrew Ward

Andrew Ward is a Brooklyn-based cannabis writer and creative. His work has appeared on Benzinga, High Times, PROHBTD and several other publications and brand blogs. He has covered the cannabis space for over three years, and has written professionally since 2011. His first book, "Cannabis Jobs," was released in October 2019. Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn to stay up to date.

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