New York doesn’t look or smell different since the state legalized adult-use cannabis in April. New Yorkers are still puffing pot openly on the sidewalks, just like they were before. But big changes are coming. Legalization is projected to produce not just truckloads of legal weed, but tens of thousands of legit jobs, too. New York, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, could use some job creation, and legalization could be its well-timed windfall for mass employment in form of pot jobs for New Yorkers.
Governor Andrew Cuomo estimated that recreational legalization would “eventually” create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs. He did not expound on the timeline. But an economic report from The New School in February estimates that adult-use legalization in New York will generate 50,806 jobs by fiscal year 2027, with $2.6 billion in retail sales.
These jobs range from bud trimmers and bud tenders to higher-paid specialists like chemists, botanists, engineers and master extractors.
The weed recovery is not just a pipedream. The Empire State is already showing signs of economic revitalization stemming from cannabis. Green Thumb Industries, a multi-billion-dollar cannabis company from Chicago, purchased a former prison in Warwick and plans to turn it into a cannabis manufacturing operation. Warwick is located about 50 miles from New York City in an area where the Appalachian Trail winds through fields, forests, and hills on its way to Bear Mountain.
“We lost 450 jobs when the state closed the prison in 2011,” said Warwick Town Supervisor Michael P. Sweeton. “GTI has pledged to invest $150 million and create 175 jobs in a 400,000 square foot facility. We are excited for their investment in our community and for the job potential for our residents.”
The project will create 100 staff jobs and “hundreds of construction jobs” in the first phase, growing to 175 staff jobs within four years, according to GTI Chief Strategy Officer Jen Dooley. The jobs range from cultivation to administration to lab work. GTI receives a 15-year tax abatement as part of the deal.
Hundreds of Soon-To-Be Available Pot Jobs For New Yorkers
There are 10 license-holding cannabis companies in New York medical program, including multi-state-operators Curaleaf, Citiva, Columbia Care, MedMen, Acreage, PharmaCann, Valley Agriceuticals, Etain, Vireo Health and Fiorella, which is owned by GTI. Each of these companies has a production license and four dispensary licenses, meaning there are 10 producers and 40 dispensaries scattered around the state, serving about 148,000 patients.
Etain Chief Operating Officer Hillary Peckham said that current regulations, if finalized, would allow each company to add four dispensaries for adult-use, allowing Etain to add 20 to 40 employees to its New York work force of 60 or 70. She said that if the state allows for expansion in cultivation and manufacturing, her company could potentially add hundreds of pot jobs for New Yorkers. Jobs start at $15 to $30 an hour, she said, and managers and specialists in chemistry and engineering could make six figures.
Albe Zakes, vice president of corporate communications for Vireo Health, said that his company employs 112 people but plans to add 250 more with adult-use. He said the jobs would include specialists in cultivation and processing technology, packing teams, R&D teams, retailers, delivery drivers and security guards. He said pay starts at $18 an hour for retail and $21 an hour for cultivation and manufacturing.
Patrik Jonsson, regional president for the East for Curaleaf, said that his company plans to add hundreds of jobs to its existing New York work force of 220, as part of the expansion into adult-use. He said the jobs would be in retail, cultivation and manufacturing. Curaleaf, which employs 4,600 people nationwide, did not provide details on pay.
The demand for adult-use cannabis is expected to outstrip the existing infrastructure of 40 dispensaries serving a state of 20 million residents. Small businesses are poised to fill the vacuum. Allan Gandelman, president of the hemp producing company Head and Heal and president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, said he currently employs 40 people in Cortland near Ithaca, but he expects to add 50 to 100 workers as he expands into adult-use. These jobs would include cultivation, trimming, manufacturing, packaging, sales and customer service “all the way up to executive types of positions,” he said. Starting pay is $14.50 an hour, he said, with the best-paid positions in lab work, extraction, sales, graphics and design.
Kaelan Castetter, CEO of the hemp producer Empire Standard/Castetter Cannabis Group, has 15 full-time employees in Binghamton, expanding to 70 seasonal during the hemp harvest. With adult-use, he expects to grow to 80 to 100 full time employees working in fertilization teams, trimming, manufacturing, packing and shipping, as well as “high level” executives like directors in branding, production and quality assurance.
“We’re planning to scale up our jobs pretty significantly, especially if we get a license,” he said.
Cuomo’s estimate on job creation referred to jobs that are directly involved in the cultivation, production, delivery, logistics, or retail of cannabis. It’s the difference between the cultivator who works in the greenhouse, and the contractor who builds the greenhouse. But ancillary jobs could outnumber plant-touching jobs. This includes web designers, human resources, specialty compliance officers, lawyers, public relations executives, copywriters, carpenters, electricians, security guards, installers of security cameras, installers of solar panels, installers of greenhouse sprinklers, and so on.
Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, figured the number of ancillary jobs, from “plumbers to programmers,” could double the number of direct jobs.
David Holland, co-founder of the New York City Cannabis Industry and legal director of Empire State NORML, estimates that the ancillary jobs could be fivefold or sixfold the number of direct jobs.
“I don’t think people really account for how large that population is going to be,” he said. “It’s not a ripple effect; it’s a tidal wave.”
Colorado, the first state to legalize adult-use in 2012, reaped economic benefits that could presumably be duplicated in other states, and not just for cultivators and retailers. Jay Czarkowski, founding partner and CEO of Canna Advisors, said that Colorado’s real estate market was “in the tank” when the nascent cannabis industry arrived, which he credits for pulling real estate out of its recession.
New York is also showing signs of real estate revitalization, with GTI’s ex-prison pot plant project. But it’s good to remember that the green rush, like the gold rush, is no guarantee for cash-strapped job seekers.
“They think it’s instant riches and it’s money up to the elbows,” said Czarkowski. “Just like any other industry, there will be those who do well and there will be those who fail. There’s no guarantee to success because it’s weed.”