Marijuana legalization has become a hot button issue in the U.S. over the past decade. It remains a Schedule I narcotic on the federal level, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, defined as "...drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." That said, more than 30 states have approved the use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational use which has opened up a multi-billion dollar industry with the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

In the midterm elections that were held on November 6, 2018, the following states voted in favor of marijuana legalization for either recreational or medicinal purposes, or both:

Michigan: Voters approved Proposal One, which legalizes marijuana use and cultivation for people over the age of 21 in addition to authorizing the commercial sale of marijuana through state-licensed retailers.

Missouri: Voters approved Amendment 2, which permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes and allows patients to cultivate plants at home. Marijuana was not approved for recreational use.

Utah: Voters approved Proposition Two, which allows some use of marijuana for medical purposes, only.

Legal marijuana sales grew over 37% in 2017, bringing international valuations of $9.5 billion. The U.S. is routinely responsible for over 90|% of the world's legal weed sales. As of November 7, 2018, there are 31 states in which medical marijuana is legal, and seven where both recreational and medical marijuana is legal. 

Job Market Heats Up

The shift in marijuana’s legal status has fueled demand for workers who can help sustain the industry, from greenhouse employees and production managers to sales associates and scientists. There has also been a surge in jobs you might not normally associate with the marijuana trade. Realty companies is some parts of the country, for example, have started hiring agents who specialize in finding suitable properties for growers. The infamous "Emerald Triangle" in Northern California has experienced significant increases in real estate interest since Prop 215 was passed in the mid-1990s, and realtors are expecting similar interest in areas where marijuana would thrive.

Just how big is the job market? Consider that in Colorado in 2015 the sector provided 18,000 new, full-time jobs, according to the Marijuana Policy Group, a research organization.  And that's just one state. While lower-level jobs in the industry pay modestly – a bud trimmer makes between $12 and $15 an hour – those that require specialized skills pay relatively well. If you can bring solid business experience or a strong scientific background to the table, employers are willing to pay.

As an example, a medical marijuana firm in eastern Colorado recently posted an opening for a greenhouse production manager who will make between $50,000 and $70,000 a year.  A “director of cultivation” job in Denver, which oversees production as well as research and development, advertises a $100,000 salary. 

Investment Potential 

There are more ways to invest in marijuana than writing a check to a dispensary or legal growing operation. Bruce Linton's company Canopy Growth Corporation with the enviable (TSE: WEED) stock ticker trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Looking back at five-year returns, the stock has rewarded investors who rode it from around 2.5 CAD all the way to highs above 67 in 2018, a return over 2,500%. 

Similarly, GW Pharmaceuticals experienced comparable growth. They are not the biggest cannabis company in the world like Canopy is, but over the same period, their stock (OTC: GWPRF) experienced a growth over 500%. Their product that was developed to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis was the first ever approved cannabis-derived substance, in any country.

Several U.S. and Canadian companies have tapped the public markets in the past year, raising billions of dollars and attracting investors betting on the potential returns as legalization spreads across the U.S. We track the fastest growing marijuana stocks here.

University Programs Growing

As a result of the legalization trend, several college programs have sprouted up promising to help students prepare for jobs on either the business side of the industry or the scientific realm. These days, one can even find marijuana courses at established institutions like the University of Denver or Vanderbilt University. There’s also been an influx of smaller, marijuana-focused colleges in states like Colorado, which was the first to legalize the drug. The problem is that it’s sometimes hard for students to figure out which ones are legitimate.

Some, like Clover Leaf University, which offers certification programs in marijuana law, cultivation and business, have certification from their state higher education commission. But programs with dubious credentials have also popped up. Greenway University, for instance, was forced to close down in 2011 after its founders failed to reveal a prior felony conviction.

The Bottom Line

The growth of the legal marijuana market is opening up more and more opportunities for job-seekers with industry-specific knowledge. There seem to be viable investment opportunities, but the landscape has yet to be thoroughly tested, and many are still worried about Federal involvement.