Eight years ago, Samantha Miller was earning six figures a year as a product developer for a LED lighting company in Northern California when a high school friend called to ask a favor. Would Miller be able to help her friend’s boss at a medical cannabis dispensary figure out how to use a new machine purchased to analyze the quality of pot?
Miller passed on the job, but offered some free advice. With her background in machinery design and lab supervision, she told the dispensary folks: “You need (to hire) a scientist because you are going to ruin that piece of equipment if you don’t know how to run it.”
The dispensary owner ignored her warning and sure enough, Miller soon received a call that the machine had gone kaput. Fed up, the owner offered to give the high-tech device to Miller if she could repair it — and would be willing to test the dispensary’s cannabis for free.
Miller fixed the machine, and her business was born. “I look back at the moment, and I don’t know what totally seized me,” she said.
These days, Miller employs about 10 people at Pure Analytics, a quality assurance and testing company outside of Santa Rosa. Last month, she hired four people, including two high-level scientists. (One’s an expert with terpene, a component of marijuana that gives it its aroma.) Both are six-figure jobs, Miller said.
She also hired field sample technicians — employees who go to customer facilities and collect product to bring back to the lab. The job requires workers to have a Bachelor of Science degree, she said, and employees earn between $40,000 and $55,000 annually, depending on “how many years out of school and how wet they are behind the ears.”
More than a year and a half has passed since Californians legalized the adult use of recreational pot, and since then, cannabis has become one fastest-growing employment sectors in the U.S. Job creation isn’t limited to dirt-under-the-fingernails positions like growers and trimmers. White collar work in the industry also is exploding, with businesses scrambling to hire scientists, attorneys, accountants, technicians and marketing experts.
Employment sites such as Monster.com and Indeed.com are filled with openings. A medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento needs an experienced store manager. Salary: $40,000-$60,000. A cannabis lab in Los Angeles wants to process manager-lab technician and will pay $75,000-$110,000. CEOs and master growers also can command six-figure salaries — and equity in the company.
California leads the nation in cannabis employment. In 2017, the state had 38,233 people directly employed in the pot business, and 18,165 people in related employment, according to BDS Analytics, a market research firm that follows the industry. By 2021, BDS predicts that almost 100,000 Californians will be employed in the cannabis industry.
Similar gains are expected nationally well. With recreational or medical marijuana legal in 29 states and the nation’s capital, the pot industry employed 121,000 people in the U.S. last year. By 2021, that’s predicted to more than double, according to BDS.
Those looking for cannabis jobs already can feel the momentum. According to employment site ZipRecruiter.com, marijuana job postings increased 693 percent from the last quarter of 2016 to last quarter 2017.
California, Colorado and Washington had the highest number of marijuana jobs posted last year, according to the site.
The allure of the industry is about more than the abundance of positions or the amounts they pay. Similar to those who signed up to work at Silicon Valley start ups, many marijuana employees were drawn by the opportunity to work in a nascent industry and help create companies from the ground up. This applies to millennials as well as mid-career professionals looking for a change.