Legal cannabis job market facing new hurdles

More than 400,000 jobs are supported by the legal cannabis industry, according to a 2023 report conducted by the cannabis job platform Vangst.

The metrics of jobs within the cannabis industry are complicated to track. Because cannabis is still illegal at a federal level, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics are barred from counting legal cannabis jobs.

In 2017, the cannabis company Leafly began conducting annual data regarding jobs within the industry, eventually partnering with Whitney Economics up until 2022.

This year, the jobs report was conducted by Vangst, alongside Bruce Barcott and economist Beau Whitney.

This report includes jobs at retail and cultivation levels, a total that amounts to 417,493 full-time equivalent jobs as of April — a 2% decrease from the previous year.

According to Vangst, this is the first time that cannabis-related employment has declined since 2012, when the legalization of cannabis began. But why?

“Over the past year, America’s regulated cannabis industry faced economic headwinds that tested the resilience of every company in the cannabis space,” the report read.

“A confluence of factors — global inflation, rising interest rates, cooling investor enthusiasm, depressed wholesale cannabis prices, and a shift in post-pandemic consumer demand — challenged the legal industry’s unrelenting growth. In the past six months, staff reductions have hit nearly every major brand in cannabis. After enjoying an unusual revenue lift during the COVID years, the industry absorbed a decline in demand as the pandemic receded. Millions of American adults, stressed and stuck at home, turned to cannabis for relief and enjoyment.”

The pandemic’s early moments held a notable influence on the cannabis market and job industry.

“During 2020 and 2021, nationwide sales saw a 20% bounce over what might be considered ‘natural’ growth. The cannabis industry, like other essential stay-at-home sectors (think Netflix, Amazon, Uber Eats, Zoom) staffed up to meet the sudden demand. When the pandemic began to recede in 2022, cannabis demand returned to pre-pandemic levels. That left many companies with staffing levels incompatible with the new return-to-normalcy environment,” the report noted.

Recreational cannabis sales in Arizona began in 2021. According to data from Leafly, 2600 jobs were added during this year, creating a total of 21,596 jobs within the legal cannabis industry as of 2023. However, according to data from Vangst, this is a 7% decrease from the previous year, amounting to a total loss of 1,737 jobs.

While jobs within the industry ebb and flow, cannabis sales remain consistent nationwide. According to the report, annual cannabis sales increased by 3%, climbing from $25.25 billion in 2021 to $26.1 billion in 2022. About 77% of total sales were made up of adult-use purchases.

Changes in employment are also related to the shifts in cannabis legalization across the country.

States with mature cannabis markets, including Colorado and California, saw substantial losses in employment, while new markets such as Michigan and Missouri experienced a considerable boost in cannabis-related jobs.

This data unearths a double-edged sword of sorts. While fresh markets experience robust growth within the cannabis industry, older markets face new hurdles.

What’s next?

Vangst is still optimistic. While the cannabis industry faced significant drawbacks in 2022, cannabis companies were able to readjust their business practices. Whitney Economics foresees cannabis sales to grow by 11.8%.

The full report can be accessed online, at