This Week in Weed: Cannabis workers now outnumber pilots and engineers

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“There's now more cannabis workers than there are aircraft pilots and engineers, dentists, painters or EMTs and electrical engineers,” says David Downs, Senior Editor at Leafly.com. Photo courtesy of CDC.

The cannabis boom is here. States across the country have recently legalized weed, and others like New York are in the works to do the same. They would join mature markets like California that have spent years building their businesses. 

Capita, regulation, growth and oversight are some of the words Americans will be hearing this year as the cannabis industry gets further monetized.

KCRW talks about the marijuana market with David Downs, Senior Editor at Leafly.com. 

KCRW: How much has the cannabis industry grown?

David Downs: “It’s grown phenomenally. It’s growing like a weed — 

32% year-over-year growth in 2020 in cannabis, totaling 321,000 full time equivalent jobs now. Those jobs went up 77,000 in 2020. And just as a local example, my barber wants a cannabis job now. 

Compared to the broader economy, that was very striking. This was the worst year for growth in the broader economy since World War II. GDP was down 3.5% and 10 million traditional jobs went away. 

There's now more cannabis workers than there are aircraft pilots and engineers, dentists, painters or EMTs and electrical engineers.”

Federal prohibition prevents the Department of Labor from counting legal state-held jobs. How do you find that data on growth?

“We use a formula to look at the total industry revenue, which is tracked under medical and adult use cannabis laws. We extrapolate out from there to a certain amount of full time equivalent jobs.”

There have been recent billion dollar mergers and acquisitions in the cannabis business. How much is the industry worth in the U.S.?

“They pegged the total sales for last year at 18.3 billion in cannabis products and that number was up 71% year-over-year. 

Again, because these adult-use programs are taking off, these medical programs are taking off too. And we also saw a huge COVID bump in consumers consuming cannabis. Beau Whitney, at Whitney Economics, working with Leafly, found that the average order went up by 33% in 2020.”

As the market continues to grow, regulation is supposed to follow. Before the pandemic, vaping was a big public health issue. Dozens of people died from illicit products and it dominated the news cycle. But then COVID-19 came along. What’s that issue looking like now?

“With growth comes regulation, and with growth also comes new innovation. What we're seeing in the vape space is that while legal markets continue to be far safer than any type of vape cartridges you buy on the street, they're not bulletproof. 

We found a number of gaps in state vaping regulations, especially here in California, that potentially could put consumers at risk. We found that industry members, as well as experts, both want to see the regulations be updated to take into account the new practices that are occurring in the vape space. People are working on that now.

Yet, we're seeing most states start to orient to tightening their vape regulations, and we're starting to see the first association of cannabis regulators come together nationwide to trade best practices. 

A lot of these states are in their own silos, and they think that they have the number one way to do it. And every state does it differently. But there's a lot of learning to share across states so that there's a uniform baseline quality control standard for a vape product in every state.”

It may take a while for oversight to come in. In the meantime, how can consumers make sure they’re vaping safely?

“You want to shop at a licensed store and buy licensed products. 

You can check that licensing information online, and then you want to be on the lookout for vague ingredients on the label, like ‘natural ingredients’ or ‘artificial ingredients.’ 

The vape regulations did not contemplate a lot of these non-cannabis ingredients appearing in cannabis products. And to our knowledge, most of them have not been approved safe for use on the lung under FDA guidelines. 

I'm talking about grapefruit flavors or additive thickeners and cutters like vitamin E acetate or squalene, which is a form of shark liver oil that you will find in beard cream, but hopefully not in your pain or in your lungs.”

Credits

Host:
Larry Perel

Producer:
Tara Atrian