While rules and regulations vary from state to state, Americans everywhere are taking advantage of the rapidly growing marijuana business.
“In 2020, Americans purchased $18.3 billion worth of cannabis products, a 71% increase over 2019,” according to Leafly’s Job Report on the rapid growth of marijuana within the country.
According to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services, recreational use is illegal, but medical use is legal over the age of 18 within the state of Missouri. However, MU strategic communication professor Brad Best predicts that the state’s laws will eventually lead to full legalization for recreational use.
“Medical marijuana is just the first step for many of the states (that have already fully legalized recreational use) in ultimately legalizing recreational use,” Best said.
Those who wish to see the state open up recreational use argue that by doing so, the state will receive a major increase in tax revenue.
In New Jersey, recreational use was legalized at the start of 2021. According to Forbes, the state is projected to have $1.2 billion in sales by 2025, which ultimately would create 19,037 new jobs within the state. However, some predict that New Jersey could reach higher numbers if the state’s programs are implemented as quickly as possible.
As the industry continues to grow at rapid rates with more states legalizing marijuana recently, what does this mean for college students approaching the job market?
Several U.S. universities and colleges are offering cannabis courses and graduate programs, and more and more young people are dipping their toes in the marijuana industry. According to Forbes, it is one of the largest job creation mechanisms in the country, and it employs workers with various backgrounds and education levels.
Schools like Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Northern Michigan and UC Davis have law, business, chemistry and physiology classes dedicated to the study of the cannabis business.
Stockton University, a public university in New Jersey, has even staged a cannabis career fair for their students.
“Employment in the cannabis industry is the next wave of opportunity for students and professionals looking to answer the question ‘what’s next?” Edmund DeVeaux, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said in an interview with NewJersey.com.
While universities in legalized states are beginning to get ahead of the growing job industry, it is leaving some universities in states where it isn’t fully legalized, like Missouri, behind.
Best believes the negative stigma around marijuana, which started when marijuana was classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, still is the dominant factor as to why the industry isn’t viewed as legitimate in a state like Missouri.
“(Marijuana’s) still taboo because it’s not legal everywhere,” Best said.
Because marijuana isn’t recreationally legal and has vague regulation in Missouri, Best also believes businesses like banks and logistical consultants are hesitant to provide its services to those who work in the marijuana industry.
“It still technically could be a felony if there is enough involved,” Best said of the danger businesses face when working with anybody in the marijuana industry.
That same fear of the possible trouble one can face by working in the industry has pushed potential college students away from the emerging job market.
However, some college students still realize the benefits of the new job market and continue to work their way into the industry despite the potential risks.
Chris Hulett, an MU mechanical engineering student, and Ben Becker, an MU business student, have noticed the positive outlook and opportunities the marijuana industry has to offer.
They are developing an at-home cannabis cultivation system that streamlines the process for inexperienced and experienced growers alike. Hulett is prototyping the product and securing a patent, while Becker is speaking with investors and potential buyers.
“It’s a simple business plan: We’re making at-home cultivation effortless and affordable by taking a proven product and redeveloping it with modern twists,” Becker said. “These twists sparked our overall interest in the product.”
Hulett said he is content studying engineering but would consider taking cannabis-related engineering electives if MU offered them. His interest in the cannabis industry began when the first few states legalized it, but he could not have anticipated the industry’s steep growth.
“At that point there were rumors that it would be a new emerging market,” Hulett said. “It does offer another sector that engineering will have to operate in and will most likely have more new jobs than existing sectors. There are still more opportunities in the traditional business and engineering careers, but the legalization has opened up the opportunity to apply what we do know from these traditional careers and help build this new market.”
Like many other college students, Becker and Hulett believe recreational legalization will abolish the negative stigma regarding marijuana.
“I feel the ‘lazy, hungry, criminal’ stigma surrounding marijuana stays with the traditionalists,” Becker said.
“When legalization occurs, people will be informed more of the possible benefits for them and the state leaving the unpleasant stigma of marijuana in the past.”
Hulett said complete legalization would increase the total number of available legal marijuana consumers, thus increasing sales and potential units sold. He said he expects Missouri to legalize recreational marijuana soon, following the national trend to legalize and decriminalize.
With many predicting that recreational legalization will happen in the near future in Missouri, the question that arises is this: “Why not legalize it now?”
Not only would the added tax revenue help the state fund more improvement projects, it would also give college students the full ability to begin participating in the fast-growing industry.
But Best warns that too many restriction or taxes when legalizing marijuana recreationally will backfire in the state with consumers then turning to cheaper options outside regulated dispensaries.
“Exorbitant amounts of taxes lead to black-market activity,” Best said.
In order for Missouri to enjoy the economic and other benefits of marijuana that many other states are already experiencing, it must realize the importance of having an open market with low barriers to entry while also finding the right amount of regulation for the industry, experts said.
If done correctly, college students entering the job market will have an opportunity to tap into a new industry with serious potential.