The U.S. legal marijuana industry is booming

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The U.S. legal marijuana,It’s 2018 and marijuana remains illegal in the United States. U.S. legal marijuana/(opens in a new tab)

But continued federal prohibition hasn’t stopped the marijuana industry from growing like a very profitable weed.

Despite what could be considered an unfriendly administration in Washington D.C., nine states and the District of Columbia now allow for recreational marijuana use and 30 allow for medical use. And more states are lining up to join the legalization wave. Pot has become big business in t

The emerging industry took in nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017, according to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis industry. Sales are equivalent to the entire snack bar industry, or to annual revenue from Pampers diapers.

That was before California opened its massive retail market in January. The addition of the Golden State is huge for the industry and Adams estimates that national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.

Forget the energy industry. Marijuana appears to be the fastest-growing job sector in the US.

The US added 64,389 full-time legal cannabis jobs in 2018, according to a new report from the cannabis website Leafly and the consultancy Whitney Economics. That represented a 44% increase in total positions, which rose to 211,000.

And that’s not counting jobs indirectly related to the marijuana industry, like lawyers, accountants, security consultants, media companies, and marketing firms. With those included, the report said, there were 296,000 payrolls in the sector last year.

The report estimated that jobs in the industry would grow by at least 110% from 2017 to 2020, outpacing what are often seen as the top sectors. For comparison, the report noted US Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for 105% growth in solar-panel-installation positions and 47% growth in home-healthcare positions over a much longer 10-year period, from 2016 to 2026.

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the BLS doesn’t report employment figures for the industry. The report’s authors used state data and industry figures to reach its estimates.

While the marijuana industry faces significant legal uncertainty, it has made headway in recent years. Recreational marijuana has been legalized by 10 states and Washington, DC.

And across the US, there are other signs the industry is booming. Job openings in the cannabis industry listed on the careers site Glassdoor rose to 1,512 last year from 858 in 2017.

“Investment in hiring is one of the strongest indicators for business confidence as it requires a substantial long-term investment of time, effort, and money,” Glassdoor’s Daniel Zhao wrote.

Overall hiring in the US slowed by more than expected in February, with the BLS indicating that the economy added its fewest jobs of any month since 2017. Economists will be closely watching the next BLS report for signs of whether that was just month-to-month noise or the start of a downward trend.

It’s unclear whether the marijuana industry would be able to keep up its growth levels in the face of a slowdown, said Josh Wright, the chief economist at iCIMS, a hiring software firm.

“The cannabis industry sounds big enough to make a difference for a lot of individual workers and perhaps communities, but on its own, it’s not much of a recession-fighter,” Wright said.

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