By Oliver Bennett, Special Contributor to New Frontier Data
Despite ending another year compromised by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the legal cannabis industry can afford some optimism looking toward 2022. While the pandemic remains an ongoing crisis, with Europe adopting frequently updated restrictions, there are nevertheless positive trends taking shape for the industry in the new year.
Most notably, the three coalition parties forming Germany’s next government appear in agreement to legalize adult-use cannabis. Pending ratification by the Social Democrats, Greens, and pro-business Free Democrats, the move looms as an international game-changer, as Europe’s most influential and populous nation will set precedents for the agendas of other countries.
While Malta and Luxembourg will technically beat Germany to market, other countries positioned for cannabis reforms include Spain, Portugal, Finland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
It is also likely to have a knock-on effect of easing remaining restrictions on medical cannabis. As New Frontier Data detailed over the summer, “with an expected million-plus German patients gaining access to cannabis by 2024 and a medical cannabis market expected to be worth around €7.7 billion by 2028, one can see why Germany is considered a grail. Meanwhile, across Europe, with a population of 748 million and an annual healthcare spend exceeding €2.1 trillion (EUR), the expectation is that the continent will become the largest world market for medical cannabis.” Much of the optimism revolves around mechanisms for economic recovery, as previously outlined by New Frontier Data.
Of course, to achieve a functional industry, skilled labour will be required. A university survey commissioned by the German Hemp Association posited that legalising cannabis could create some 27,000 jobs while generating new tax revenues of about 3.4 billion euros annually.
Meanwhile, the U.K. Cannabis Industry Council estimated that 100,000 jobs could be created in medical cannabis alone in a report called U.K. Medical Cannabis & CBD Market – Ten Recommendations for Government by Professor Mike Barnes, interviewed here in April. More recently, the drug reform group Volteface reported that the U.K. could be missing out on a potential £1.2 billion medical cannabis industry and 41,000 potential jobs due to outdated licensing regimes.
Elsewhere, the social benefits of job creation amid the pandemic’s disruptions are vital to the case for cannabis reform and investment. Recently, in the U.K. Channel Island of Guernsey, 4C Labs became the first company licenced to grow medical cannabis, partly on the premise that it could create more than 60 jobs – labour that might otherwise emigrate. As Greg Dobbin of 4C Labs said, medical cannabis could start being grown locally from early 2023. “I would say that one of the greatest benefits to Guernsey is… if you can create new opportunities for younger people, you can retain them.”
Similarly confident attitudes prevail in the rest of the UK. In autumn 2021, the Telegraph – a Conservative publication – welcomed that “cannabis could be the new gold rush”. While the U.K. is a world leader in producing medicinal cannabis, it exports it in the absence of a legal market, leaving Britain at risk of being left behind by a growing industry. Compare it to the U.S., where (according to a report from Leafly) the legal cannabis industry employs some 321,000 people – a larger cohort of the workforce than paramedics, airline pilots, or electrical engineers.
Toward providing the labour, Lumino claims to be the first cannabis agency in Europe if others have also staked the space out, including Handpicked Jobs – a cannabis-specific recruitment platform connecting industry pioneers with “exceptional talent… at the dawn of an immense new global cannabis industry.”
Created by entrepreneur George Vincent, Handpicked Jobs hopes to become the “U.K.’s go-to recruitment platform for cannabis-specific jobs,” and claims over 15,000 candidates signing up already – suggesting that the cannabis industry may still be a buyer’s market in terms of recruitment. Other forays into the recruitment sector include Blume (which in 2019 claimed to be Europe’s first “cannabis recruitment agency aligning talent within the legal cannabis industry”), Cannalist’s European cannabis jobs board, and Businesscann, which last month launched a jobs portal for the European cannabis industry, claiming to be “the ideal destination for businesses looking for new staff… [and to] those looking to join one of the planet’s fastest-growing industries”.
The specifics of the cannabis jobs market make recruitment strategies critical. Sectors where cannabis could draw from include biotech, agritech, IT, marketing, quality control, laboratory technicians, jobs in cultivation, and much more. As the market develops it could also fold in jobs in retail and hospitality – a phenomenon that has already been observed in the U.S., as part of the move from undervalued jobs in retail to more quality-of-life employment – sometimes characterised as ‘the Great Resignation’ – which has seen a boost to the cannabis industry by adding over 77,000 jobs across the sector, spanning minimum-wage positions to six-figure salaries. Young and mobile, workers in the rapidly maturing industry can move up the ladder in a shorter time frame than in more established industries.
In the U.S. there’s also a maturing sector of cannabis courses, with some in established universities as well as among start-ups. Some like the Colorado-based Clover Leaf University, have existed for over a decade; it also offers workshops in another 10 U.S. cities.
In Europe the training and course market is much less developed. Still, the Cannabis Training University, claiming to be ”the world’s leading online cannabis college”, has specialist portals for European countries including Germany and the Netherlands.
Given that the training side is sure to grow, and a skills shortage remains in the European industry, North Americans are being recruited in the European market over and above local workers. For some, that raises the issue of safeguarding. This brings safeguarding to the fore.
David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute think tank told The Washington Post that “there is an urgency to establish guardrails now, for well-paying, middle-class jobs before cannabis is legalized federally and really takes off. Otherwise, these jobs could quickly start to look like existing retail and agriculture jobs, which are oftentimes the worst jobs in the economy.” Workers’ rights groups in the established North American cannabis industry are now calling for greater unionization, claiming that it is at a critical time in the industry to establish protections.
As the cannabis industry moves forward into a year full of hope, its foundations should be as solid as possible, so it can attract the talent it sorely needs.
New Frontier Data does not endorse any of the organisations cited in the article.