Many experts, policy officials and legislators have cited the economic benefits of a legal, regulated and taxed cannabis industry. Indeed, the impact of legalization as an economic driver is on display in states across the country. Besides tax revenue, legalization has created a number of new small businesses, spurred growth in ancillary industries, and created a range of new employment opportunities. But few predicted that the cannabis industry would rival today’s fastest-growing industries, like tech. In Oregon, however, that’s exactly what a new economic forecast reveals. Alcohol and weed industries are creating more jobs than tech in Oregon.
Jobs In Cannabis Are Surpassing Those in Tech
Tech is a pillar of Oregon’s economy. So much so, in fact, that the Portland metropolitan area has earned the nickname Silicon Forest. Like its Silicon Valley counterpart, the Pacific Northwest is host to some tech giants, including Apple, Intel, Amazon, Yahoo!, and many more. And according to the most recent Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 7,600 more tech jobs in Oregon in 2018 than in 2008.
But job creation in the alcohol and weed industries was greater. According to the same data, Oregon added 8,700 jobs in the alcohol industry over the same period. Measuring the gain in jobs in the cannabis industry, however, is a little more challenging. OLCC data on the employment records of licensed cannabis businesses totals 5,300 jobs.
That total is less than alcohol and tech, of course, but it doesn’t factor in the highly seasonal, often informal nature of work in the cannabis industry. Taking a count of OLCC marijuana worker permits reveals just that: there are roughly 35,000 permits on file. That’s too many to represent active employees. But state economic analyst Josh Lehner used a scaling formula based on sales-to-employee ratios to estimate there are an additional 6,000 seasonal jobs in the cannabis industry. Based on that estimation, cannabis has added about 11,000 jobs to Oregon’s economy over the last decade, more than tech and more than booze.
Cannabis Industry Is Creating Jobs, But Do They Pay?
Total jobs is only part of the economic picture of these major industries. Another key factor is what the average wage is for their workers. And in this respect, cannabis is still lagging behind. While employees in the tech sector average six-figure incomes, about $110,000, alcohol only pays an average $32,400. For workers in the cannabis industry, average wages are even lower, at $29,600.
Those low wages are an impediment to the industry’s further growth. For many low-level retail gigs, cannabis companies are dealing with massive employee turnover. And the fact that many cannabis companies can’t provide workers with federally subsidized benefits like health insurance is also keeping new hires from sticking around. In fact, the situation has led some workers in the cannabis industry to unionize, sometimes even with the support of their employers.