Cannabis is making its way into the tight labor market

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Some companies have cut hours, changed the way they serve customers or increased wages and softened benefits to attract candidates as the pandemic-influenced labor market reshapes.

Marijuana companies are among those keeping a “hiring in progress” sign in the window, but for different reasons than restaurants, hotels and retailers scrambling to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels . The challenges cannabis companies face when hiring also differ – too many applicants in some cases, striving to respect diversity and local professional commitments, and overcoming the stigma of what for decades was an illegal industry.

Five years after voters legalized marijuana here, the Bay State cannabis industry has grown steadily as growers, manufacturers, retailers, testing labs, services delivery and others are establishing and starting to expand into the new legal space.

“With all of the transferable skills opportunities, I think someone could come along without knowing anything about cannabis and really find their place in this huge field of the growing industry and then grow into it,” Sieh Samura, co-owner and CEO of Yamba market, currently being hired, in the central plaza, said. “We are seeing people who are able to grow and take on new roles quickly. We are seeing people leaving a job for a better job maybe because they now have cannabis experience from their time in a store and now. this store says, “Hey, we really love what we saw you do over there. The stores are actually fighting for some of the same people here. “

Even with a pandemic that forced a two-month freeze on non-medical sales, the marijuana workforce here has maintained its steep trajectory. Massachusetts’ non-medical cannabis workforce has grown from 5,846 active and licensed “agents” at the mid-September 2019 meeting of the Cannabis Control Commission to 9,607 active agents at the time of its meeting of the Cannabis Control Commission. mid-September 2020, representing growth of around 64%. At its meeting in mid-September 2021, headcount had grown another 65% to 15,869 active officers.

Massachusetts is not alone. As legalization efforts have spread across the country, employment opportunities have also multiplied. Last month, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. legal cannabis industry more than doubled its growth in 2019 with nearly 80,000 jobs created in 2020.

The approximately 321,000 people working in the marijuana industry across the country now outnumber dentists, paramedics and electrical engineers, the Post said.

Here and elsewhere, some of the cannabis industry’s newest employees were in restaurant and other high-stress jobs before or during the pandemic. To many who take the leap, the cultivation of the cannabis industry may seem like “a little step back from the nastiness out there,” Samura said.

“I get this a huge amount of time. People have sometimes worked less than they thought they would, in jobs and industries that could have changed and become a bit mean during the pandemic,” he said. Samura added: “It makes sense that they say, ‘where could I be a little more fulfilled, maybe a little more secure, maybe a little happier?’ … And the cannabis industry historically is: people are motivated to change society for the better, they tend to be a little more optimistic, you know, they smoke weed.

Hiring commitments

As Massachusetts marijuana businesses become established, staffing isn’t as easy as pulling out a wanted help ad and then choosing from the resumes and applications that arrive. The state and municipalities have requirements to ensure diversity and inclusion in new industry legislation, a goal that many operators strive to achieve support.

“In the licensing phase you go through that phase where you make a lot of commitments to the city, you make a lot of commitments to the state and they all stem from what the communities, the state and the CCC want. “Wes Ritchie, who, along with Ture Turnbull, is co-founder and co-CEO of Tree House Craft Cannabis, said. “Now is that phase where Ture and I focus on implementing those promises. And I think some operators care about implementing them, others don’t. We like to think of ourselves as quality and quality. quality of the operation that we are putting in place is somehow on display – are you going to respect your values ​​or not? “

Companies seeking commercial marijuana licenses must submit diversity plans that show how the company will promote and measure equity between women, minorities, veterans, people with disabilities, and people of all identities. gender and sexual orientation.

In the guidance it provides to potential applicants, the CCC gave an example of what a diversity plan might look like: Latinx and Indigenous people, 25% veterans, 10% people with disabilities, and 10% LGBTQ + people. . “

And host community agreements that marijuana companies are required to make with municipalities may also include a provision requiring the company to make jobs available to residents of the municipality. The CCC says that while local residency “may be one of the many positive factors in recruiting, it should not preclude [business] to hire the most qualified candidates or to obstruct compliance with Massachusetts anti-discrimination and employment laws.

Ritchie and Turnbull plan to open this store in the coming weeks, but they said they have maintained a focus on diversity and fairness in hiring throughout the licensing phase. Ritchie said that 80% of the company’s leadership team fall into at least one of five categories that the CCC specifically requires companies to pay attention to.

“When Wes and I started this business, we brought our values ​​from day one. And so we’ve been hiring for three years … our general contractor is a female-owned business, our security business is vets. – owned, ”said Turnbull.“ When we look at communities, we think diversity makes us stronger. We don’t see this as simply state regulation. It’s something we’re proud of. “

And as an LGBT-owned business, Tree House Craft Cannabis wants to be able to show that it is possible to both be successful in the cannabis world, have a diverse workforce, and be successful. open up new opportunities for others.

“You see it in all the areas where you can’t be if you can’t see it, and a lot of the people at the top of these companies aren’t always diverse as the CCC requires,” Ritchie said. “I think really modeling that behavior ourselves, especially as an LGBT-owned business, is really important. We want people to be able to see each other in this industry and it’s hard when it’s news. industry and that there aren’t many people like you. “

Overcome stigma

Even though it has been five years since a majority of voters approved the legalization and standardization of marijuana, operators said there is still a stigma associated with their industry that prevents some people from seeking employment opportunities. in an area that was illegal for decades – and the rest at the federal level.

“We were talking to this woman and we were nervous getting out of her car because she had never really been to a dispensary so she had to find the courage to come,” said Turnbull. “If the state were at the forefront of educating people about this industry, I think it would be very helpful to us.”

Samura, an Iraq War veteran, has said he is very interested in hiring other veterans but repeatedly finds other veterans hesitant or worried about working in the marijuana industry n ‘affects their federal benefits.

“There is a huge stigma, especially for veterans and soldiers, but the point is, this industry is there for their profit too,” he said. Samura added: “A lot of them have been discouraged from interacting with cannabis. And it’s a struggle that I still have as a veteran, trying to support other veterans in an industry that we don’t. we weren’t really encouraged to interact at all. “

As he prepares to open Yamba Market and his wife, Leah, prepares to open Yamba Shop, Samura said he is also keenly aware that there are many people involved in the illicit cannabis industry. could not pass on the licensing side. things.

As someone who has been active in the illicit market for years and who has made the leap into the legal world, Samura said he hopes he can show people that the transition is possible and “encourage people on the unlicensed side. to embark on this business “.

“It’s painful because I’m just a store owner right now and I’m very familiar with all the damage that cannabis prohibition has done here and all the people who really want to be part of its change,” he said. -he declares. “This is one of the hardest parts for me; how can I get more people in this space away from unlicensed activities and towards licenses? This is one of the challenges I face every day. “


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