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Cannabis employees are in high demand during economic crash

Coronavirus hasn’t kept some cannabis companies down: They’re staffing up even as unemployment in many other sectors soars.

Weed businesses around the country that were in strong financial shape heading into the pandemic are hiring additional workers in response to robust demand for marijuana products. Almost all states have allowed pot shops to remain open, even though vast swaths of the retail economy have been shuttered for weeks.

An initial coronavirus sales boom — sparked by panicked shoppers worried that dispensaries might be shuttered — quickly plateaued, but many shops report that they continue to do brisk business. Fewer shoppers are hitting stores, but they’re making bigger buys, and there’s been a surge in delivery sales. They are thriving even though they can’t touch federal rescue money to pay their bills or employees. Some lawmakers are pressing to include them, but they aren’t likely to get anywhere because of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s staunch anti-marijuana stance.

Companies POLITICO spoke to in more than a half-dozen states said they are adding thousands of workers despite the pandemic. In most cases, these hiring plans were already in the works prior to the public health crisis, but the economic paralysis gripping much of the rest of the economy largely hasn’t derailed those plans.

Green Leaf Medical said it’s in the process of hiring roughly 300 workers for its cultivation and retail operations in Virginia and Maryland, more than doubling its workforce. Trulieve has added 250 retail workers in Florida just since the Covid-19 outbreak began, with plans to add more. And Cresco Labs is hiring 250 workers to staff its stores in Illinois’ fledgling recreational market.

Curaleaf CEO Joseph Lusardi said his company has seen a 300 percent increase in demand for medical cannabis products.

“We’ve seen a surge in demand all over the country,” Lusardi said. “We’re seeing more patients become registered every day and we’re adding employees in just about every area of the business to meet the demand.“

The primary reason companies are hiring is simply that the cannabis market continues to grow across the country. Legal cannabis sales topped $12 billion last year, according to analytics firm BDSA, and are expected to top $30 billion annually within the next four years, though the projections don’t take into account coronavirus’ economic impact. The legal cannabis industry in the U.S. employed nearly 250,000 people last year, according to Leafly, a 15 percent jump over 2018.

Even some smaller operations are adding workers. AltMed Florida has opened 10 additional dispensaries since mid-March, doubling its retail footprint, with plans for more outlets in the works. NFuzed, a Colorado-based producer of budget-priced cannabis gummies, has added four workers since the start of the pandemic, responding to a 50 percent jump in sales. And Lightshade, which operates eight dispensaries and several grow operations in the Denver metro area, is looking to add at least 20 workers.

“We have been desperately trying to hire,” said Lisa Farrimond-Gee, Lightshade’s director of marketing. “A number of different departments are looking for people to bring on board.”

Delivery services in states that allow them are also staffing up as fearful shoppers seek to avoid stores. In pre-pandemic times, Kaitlin Wolfberg worked as a musician, playing violin, viola and occasionally conducting. The day before she was slated to travel with a string quartet to Hawaii in March, the gig was canceled.

She applied for a job the next day at the California delivery service Ganja Goddess and started working two days later. The delivery service has increased its workforce by nearly 25 percent since stay-at-home orders began.