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Post-pandemic Arizona job seekers flocking to flourishing marijuana industry

As the economy recovers from the pandemic, people returning to the job market are looking to new industries. One of those booming industries: marijuana.

PHOENIX — Before the pandemic, Aaron De La Rosa was working three jobs and no time to time to enjoy life or save money for a rainy day.

But as COVID-19 began to intensify and reach Arizona, his hours were slowly cut until he was officially let go.

“When I finally had that time to breathe and recollect myself, I said, ‘this isn’t the life I want to work towards,’” he added.

He was unemployed for eight months as the pandemic closed businesses, taxed the health care system and took thousands of lives.

After an unforgettable and difficult year, the economy is slowly recovering, and people are starting to head back to work.

Many opted to return to their old jobs, but others, like De La Rosa, took this as an opportunity to pursue new careers in new industries. He jumped into the booming cannabis industry after seeing a social media post to work at Mint Dispensary.  

“As much as I enjoyed helping people get their food and what not I just felt like maybe finding something that would help people in a more beneficial way would be better,” De La Rosa said.

Cannabis industry a hot job market

Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in 2010. Since then, the industry has seen a scaling workforce.

After the passage of Proposition 207 in November, which legalized the recreational use and sales of marijuana for adults 21 and older, the demand and interest in cannabis have expanded exponentially. It's created opportunities for many who were out of work because of the pandemic.

“We’re receiving lots and lots of applications,” Raul Molina said, Mint Dispensary’s Chief Operating Officer. “We’ve been lucky enough to cherry-pick some incredible people.”

Molina said although their selection of candidates is more rigorous than other industries like retail or at restaurants because they can’t hire people with certain criminal histories by state law, it’s a good problem to have.

It's better than not getting any interest from potential workers like other businesses have seen since COVID-19 protocols have been lifted.

The low turnover is not just because cannabis is fun, sexy or the new thing, Molina explained. It's because it provides competitive tips, benefits and hours that have helped hire and retain employees.

“If you can imagine working at a restaurant and serving two to three tables in a shift, in an hour here they are going to see eight, nine or 10 people and the tips are coming in after everyone, so it tends to be a pretty good gig,” Molina said.

Growing job market

Since the start of the year, Molina said they’ve hired 90 people to work at Mint.

“By the end of the year we should be bringing another 75, possibly even up to 100 new employees,” he added.

A recent report from Vangst, a professional network for the cannabis industry, stated that in the next five years, 25,000 jobs will be created in Arizona and another 40,000 in states like New Jersey.

The report also found that cannabis jobs increased from approximately 120,000 in 2017 to 321,000 in the first quarter of 2021.

Some universities have started offering majors in this booming industry where students can get degrees in many fields geared towards cannabis, like biology, marketing, health care and business administration.

Marijuana is staying and so are its employees

Cannabis is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., and its market worth could reach $70.6 billion according to Grand View Research, a market research and consulting company.

As the green will keep growing and selling, people working at dispensaries see this job as a long-term career.

“It’s made me start thinking a little bit more financially, instead of working three jobs part-time, doing one job full-time with tips is definitely helped me a lot more to be able to save, budget and finance myself properly,” De La Rosa said.

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