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Cannabis is America’s fastest-growing job sector — but can feel like a ‘boys’ club’

An employee of Fotmer SA, an enterprise that produces cannabis for medical use, make cuttings of a mother plant to produce clones, in Montevideo, Uruguay.Matilde Campodonico/Associated Press/Associated Press

Do you work in the cannabis industry? Next time you see your dental hygienist, tell her she’s outnumbered.

According to a new report from the cannabis website Leafly, America’s legal pot industry now boasts 211,000 workers, more than in teeth-cleaning, brewing, textile manufacturing -- even the president’s beloved coal mining sector. Here in Massachusetts, there are more than 3,000 weed workers, a number that will likely double this year.

In fact, cannabis is America’s fastest-growing job sector, according to Leafly’s report with economist Beau Whitney based on data collected by states. Marijuana jobs are rising by 110 percent in three years, Leafly says, outpacing sectors that the federal government celebrates as the country’s top job-creators, such as home health, wind turbines, and solar panels.


This matters because unlike with every other industry, the US government doesn’t track jobs in the cannabis sector, as the drug is illegal under federal law. So, as Leafly’s deputy editor Bruce Barcott told me, those in power are missing opportunities to act on this information -- such as by expanding access to banking and credit cards -- that would help marijuana firms create even more jobs.

“The harm is that the importance of this industry and its mainstream scale are not recognized when these jobs are not counted,” Barcott said. “These are full-time, well-paying jobs that are supporting individuals, families, and communities -- and that recognition really makes a difference when companies in this industry travel to Capitol Hill.”

But while there are many jobs, life as a cannabis worker isn’t all free bud and chillaxing.

The industry, like many, is male-dominated: 67 percent of registered marijuana employees are men. That can add up to a toxic workplace culture for women, said Kate Phillips, a cannabis consultant who previously managed two dispensaries in Massachusetts. She said some of her friends left the industry after they felt management ignored their complaints of disrespectful comments. She said that cultivation and leadership roles tend to be given to men, while women are relegated to lower-paying retail jobs.


“It’s a boys’ club,” Phillips said. “There’s a large issue with gender discrimination across the industry as a whole.”

Few marijuana employees are unionized, Phillips noted, often leaving them with little leverage to secure better working conditions, wages, or benefits. Companies sometimes reduce wages for no apparent reason, she added.

The job has plenty of rewards and perks, she said -- chief among them, helping patients and consumers find marijuana products that measurably improve their lives. Still, Phillips was making just $15 an hour as a budtender.

“People go, ‘oh my God, your job is so amazing,’” she said. “They think it’s super easy and fun all the time. The reality is very different. A lot of us love it, but are also stressed about, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills.’”

Naomi Martin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @NaomiMartin.