In the relatively new cannabis industry, Colorado has long led the labor market. But this soon may change. With more U.S. states planning to legalize medical and recreational marijuana — along with Wednesday's announcement that Canada is now the largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace — they may seek to poach Colorado's experienced workers.
"The [workforce] needs are tremendous because the growth rates are very high relative to most industries. You're starting pretty much from scratch in most of these states," said Paul Seaborn, a professor at the University of Denver who teaches a "Business of Marijuana" class.
Industry publication Marijuana Business Daily recently estimated between 125,000 and 160,000 people work full-time in the U.S. industry, and market research firm New Frontier Data projects the legal market could create around 300,000 jobs by 2020.
While the cannabis industry makes up a relatively small share of Colorado's total employment at 0.7 percent, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City described it as one of the state's fastest-growing industries in an April report. In the first half of 2017, about 5.5 percent of Colorado's employment growth was attributed to the industry. By comparison, the leisure and hospitality sector was the largest contributor to total employment growth, at 23 percent, and the mining and logging sector at almost 7 percent.
The Fed report estimates Colorado's marijuana industry currently employs approximately 18,000 full-time staff, a 17.7 percent increase over the previous year. That does not include indirect employment in the marijuana sector — positions that do not require state licensing, such as security guards, construction specialists and legal services — which a 2016 report from the Marijuana Policy Group estimated to equal about 23 percent of cannabis industry jobs in Colorado.
As Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana in 2012, the market there has matured to the point that opportunities for major growth and new customer segments are limited. Because of federal prohibitions, U.S.-based cannabis companies cannot move their products over state borders. These rules affect companies in all states, but the relatively established Colorado industry is especially feeling the pinch, according to Seaborn.