The marijuana industry is expected to bring large amounts of money to states that have approved medical and/or recreational cannabis with most of that money coming from taxes, but did you know the marijuana industry is also bringing significant job growth to these states? Not only are jobs opening at marijuana-related businesses, but many states are adding hundreds or thousands of government jobs to handle the various tasks required to support the highly-regulated industry.

California’s Recreational Marijuana Program Opens Thousands of State and Local Government Jobs

In California, hundreds of new government jobs will be available by 2019 and thousands more are expected to open for local governments. That’s a big jump from the 11 full-time employees who worked for California’s Bureau of Cannabis control in January. While that number doubled in the following nine months, it will grow to over 100 workers by February 2018 – shortly after recreational marijuana becomes legal in the state. Within just 11 more months, hundreds of additional jobs will be added at the state level.

These jobs will focus on issuing business licenses, oversee environmental conditions, and enforce the state’s marijuana laws. License examiners, engineers, scientists, and more will be needed to keep the country’s largest legal marijuana market running. These government employees will work in the agency’s main office as well as in satellite offices that will be located across the state.

Labor Shortages at the State Level

The problem is many of these jobs require specialized skills, so finding people to fill them isn’t always easy. That’s a growing concern in California where the Bureau of Cannabis Control has already started posting job openings on Facebook to attract more applicants. Furthermore, many state governments waited to add staff until problems arose. In some cases, these problems became very big.

For example, in Florida, patients are waiting up to three months to receive their state-issued marijuana ID cards. The process to issue ID cards once an application has been submitted to Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use should be just 30 days. However, the majority of applicants are waiting 40 to 50 days to receive their cards because the office is understaffed. To solve the problem, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is looking to hire 28 new employees.

In Alaska, understaffing is creating delays for marijuana businesses that are waiting to get licenses. The Alaska Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office began processing business applications for the state’s recreational marijuana industry over a year and a half ago, but issuing licenses took far longer than expected. The office had to seek approval from the state’s House budget panel in February of this year for approval to hire three new employees – an administrative assistant and two additional licensing examiners who would help to handle marijuana license applications.

In Arkansas, application processing delays mean patients are unlikely to legally access medical marijuana until the end of summer 2018. The problem is the large volume of marijuana license applications that were submitted by cultivators and dispensaries. Hundreds of applications totaling over 300,000 pages were submitted, and the Medical Marijuana Commission – made up of five political appointees who are tasked with scoring each application using the state’s competition process – will need a significant amount of time to complete their tasks.

Adding to the problem is that the commission doesn’t expect to receive the applications to review until December 15, 2017 after they go through a fact-checking process handled by just three lawyers and ten agency staff. After fact-checking is completed, the commission will first review the 95 cultivator applications to grant the five available cultivator licenses followed by the approximately 230 dispensary applications to grant the 32 available dispensary licenses. Bottom-line, labor shortages mean licenses aren’t expected to be granted until April 2018. It could take months after licenses are granted for patients to actually access medical marijuana.

The Growing Labor Problem

Labor shortages at the state level are already negatively affecting state marijuana programs as we’ve seen in Florida, Alaska, and Arkansas. The problems can significantly slow down patient adoption and might even create insurmountable barriers for some patients. In other words, labor shortages could keep some people out of their states’ marijuana programs entirely. In addition, businesses that should have the opportunity to compete in the market aren’t able to do so in a timely manner in some states simply because labor shortages keep them from receiving their licenses.

Ultimately, patients, businesses, and even the government, which loses out on tax revenue, suffer when government labor shortages slow down business license and patient ID card processing as well as hinder growth of the marijuana economy.