As Canada’s biggest cannabis companies expand in the lead-up to legalization, they’re expected to add thousands of jobs to the domestic workforce within the next few years, according to information provided to VICE News by some of the companies. And this is a positive sign for many job hunters as online searches for work in the weed sector skyrocketed by 320 percent over the last year alone.
Canopy Growth Corporation, the world’s largest pot producer, which is based in Smiths Falls, Ontario, is set to quadruple its workforce “in the near future” — that figure is based on a third-party analysis of Canopy’s expansion strategy but was confirmed by company spokesperson Jordan Sinclair. Canopy did not name the third party firm.
Canopy currently employs 750 people globally, with most positions based in Ontario. Sinclair told VICE News that is expected to grow to around 3,500 in the next few years, after Canada’s recreational market comes into effect. “Most of those jobs will be here in Canada, but we also have grows being built in Jamaica and Denmark, distribution in Germany and early-stage ops in Chile and Brazil,” he said.
To date, there have been no official forecasts on how many jobs the cannabis industry will potentially create once recreational weed becomes legal this summer. Jobs associated with the cannabis industry, after legalization, will be measured automatically as part of Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey. That means that any kind of real gauge of how the industry might be aiding the economy on the job front will only be known later this year.
In the meantime, cannabis companies are shoring up their labour count. Just two years ago, Aurora Cannabis, the country’s second largest weed producer, had an office in Edmonton of just 35 people. Today the company employs more than 450 people, and that number is set to grow to 1,000 in the next year in tandem with the scale at which the company is expanding.
Aurora currently has three major production facilities in Canada. The first, about 100 kilometres north of Calgary has been growing cannabis since 2015; in October 2017, the company received a second Health Canada license to begin cultivating at a 48,000 square foot facility in Point-Claire, Montreal; a month later, Aurora acquired H2 Biopharma Inc., a facility near the Montreal airport that’s projected to produce 4,500 kilograms of cannabis annually.
“We’re going to need all kinds of people — harvesters, technologists, scientists, people with MA’s and PhD’s, and people with a business background,” Aurora’s Chief Corporate Officer Cam Battley told VICE News.
There are currently 88 Health Canada licenses for the cultivation and sale of medical cannabis held by 80 companies. Those licensed producers are set to supply the future recreational market. The scale of production among these companies is still relatively small compared to the demand, and it is impossible to say at this stage whether they will all become significant job generators.
But opportunities abound among the top three licensed producers.
Aphria Inc., which recently expanded its Leamington, Ontario production facility to a million square feet, is aiming to “more than double” its workforce over the next few years from its present number of 180 employees, according to company representative Mitchell Stein. Moreover, Stein claims the majority of Aphria’s employees are under the age of 30, a positive sign given the stark differential between the youth unemployment rate and the overall unemployment rate.
If our southern neighbours are anything to go by, then Canada can expect to see huge growth in employment thanks to legal weed. A report from cannabis consulting firm New Frontier Data projects that by 2020, the legal cannabis market in the U.S., worth almost $8 billion, will create over 250,000 jobs. That’s more than the manufacturing sector. A March 2017 assessment by the Marijuana Business Daily claimed that the industry as a whole, including ancillary businesses tied to cannabis, created up to 150,000 jobs in 2016.
“The only way to make an estimate at this stage on how many jobs will be created here in Canada is to look at the numbers coming from the U.S.,” says Alison McMahon,CEO of Cannabis At Work, an Edmonton-based staffing agency focused on helping Canadians get jobs at licensed producers.
“The closest comparison we have is California, because they have a similar population to us and their medical system is quite mature.” Prior to the legalization of recreational weed in California on January 1, 2018, there were 43,374 full-time jobs created in the medical marijuana sector alone in 2017, according to data from cannabis content site Leafly.com.
Interest in obtaining work in the cannabis industry is also growing. Data obtained by VICE News from Indeed.ca, one of Canada’s biggest job search websites shows that job searches for “marijuana-related jobs” grew 320 percent in 2017 alone. In fact, job searches for the term “medical marijuana” grow 1,004 percent last year. In December, there were 101 cannabis related job postings on Indeed.ca, a 159 percent increase from a year earlier.
“Although the number of jobs is still quite small, opportunities in this industry have been growing pretty quickly, and we're seeing job seekers react as a result of the anticipation around legalization and increased industry buzz,” said Jodi Kasten, managing director of Indeed Canada.
A quick search of the term “cannabis” on competing job site Monster.ca reveals 44 jobs in the field, ranging from a Quality Assurance Assistant at B.C.-based Tilray, to a lab technician at Canopy Growth.
“Our increased workforce will be similar to what we already have, just on a bigger scale,” Canopy’s Sinclair told VICE News. “We will need a mix of business students, agricultural workers for the production team, and in-house marketing and creative team, lab workers, engineers and customer service staff.”
But critics of the way in which legalization has come to be dominated by wealthy corporate figures point towards the injustice of the hiring process — those who are technically more qualified to work in the industry because of their history working in the industry illegally, will be, for the most part, shut out of the job market, especially if they have a criminal record.
Aurora’s Battley however, says that his company is different. He claims that Aurora has established a “unique hybrid company culture of suits, and people who come from the cannabis community.”
“We’ve actually taken the majority of our customer care people from the dispensary world in B.C. In fact, we have cultivators that have been growing cannabis for a suspiciously long time,” Battley says. “The right thing to do, I strongly believe, is to go back and start to right a historical wrong.”