How can legal weed impact NJ's economy? Five questions for a cannabis industry leader
State Senate President, Stephen Sweeney, says he is confident he will have the votes to make marijuana legal. Wednesday, August 22, 2018 Kevin R. Wexler, NorthJersey
Last month, we said it.
We support the legalization of so-called "adult use" marijuana in New Jersey. We, members of the editorial board of NorthJersey.com and The Record, said so in a Sept. 13 editorial.
We've talked with lawmakers about the subject for much of the year, most notably in an August editorial board meeting with Senate President Steve Sweeney. The Gloucester County Democrat told us he expected a bill — characterized in September as "98 percent done" — to pass sometime this fall. James Nash, our USA TODAY Network New Jersey colleague in the statehouse bureau, has reported at length about the legislations twists and turns through the halls of Trenton.
Passage seems likely. Then what?
I've been nagged by questions about what legalization could do for New Jersey's economy.
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I've read about the economic benefits legalization has brought to states like Colorado, California, Massachusetts and Maine.
Earlier this year, The Denver Post reported that a study from Colorado State University-Pueblo's Institute of Cannabis Research found that in Pueblo County, Colorado alone, the cannabis industry contributed more than $58 million to the local economy in 2016. The same report predicted that impact could rise to as much as $100 million by 2021 — just three years from now.
Of course, there were costs, too — legalization bulked up Pueblo County's spending on social services and law enforcement to the tune of $23 million. Still, the net positive impact was impressive: $35 million.
Those kinds of dollars could have an obvious and major impact on New Jersey's economy — something surely on the minds of Trenton lawmakers considering legislation that would lead to legalization.
Further, as Forbes magazine noted, the Colorado State-Pueblo study also found that legalized cannabis did not lead to increased homelessness or increased youth use of marijuana.
When considered on a federal level — marijuana is still illegal according to federal statutes — the economic impact could be massive, according to cannabis analytics firm New Frontier, which has said that legalization could lead to an economic impact of more than $105.6 billion across the United States between last year and 2025.
Further proof of legalization's economic potential is a recent Business Insider story that reported that legal marijuana sales grew to as much as $9.7 billion across the U.S. and Canada in 2017, according to research from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytic. As Business Insider observed, that figure represented growth of 33 percent over 2016 sales, "shattering previous expectations about how quickly the marijuana industry could grow in the face of federal prohibition."
In evaluating my own position on legalization, I sought out a cannabis industry leader who understands the potential economic impact of legalization.
Karson Humiston has made waves with Vangst, the cannabis industry's leading recruiting network. Vangst, you see, is like the LinkedIn for the burgeoning Cannabis industry. Humiston told me recently that her Denver-based organization has successfully connected more than 7,500 people to leading cannabis companies across the U.S. and Canada. The company employs more than 60 people at their headquarters and at a Santa Monica, California satellite. In the last year, Vangst has reported a 567 percent revenue increase and projects revenues of $5 million for 2018.
Humiston came onto my radar through our undergraduate alma mater, St. Lawrence University in northern New York.
Humiston, 25, was named to Forbes' 2018 30 under 30 list.
We've been in a dialogue for the last few weeks.
How did Vangst get started?
Humiston: When I was a senior in college I sent an email blast to my network, asking students and recent college graduates which industries they were most interested in starting their careers. To my surprise, the most popular response was the cannabis industry. Curious, I attended a cannabis trade show and walked the floor asking exhibitors about their companies as well as the positions they were hiring for. I was shocked to learn that companies were hiring every position imaginable: chemists, sales managers, developers, retail store managers, accountants, botanists and writers. I asked the companies how they went about attracting talent and found there wasn’t a cannabis industry specific recruiting agency. Further, mainstream recruiting agencies wouldn’t work with cannabis companies. Boom – the idea was born. I went to FedEx and had business cards made: “Gradujuana” – green jobs for grads. I went back to the tradeshow the next day and let companies know I was with Gradujuana, a cannabis industryrecruiting company focused on connecting young professionals with careers in the emerging cannabis industry.
I rushed back to St. Lawrence University, made an inexpensive website, spent my final weeks of college cold-calling cannabis companies and lining up meetings for when I planned to arrive in Denver— exactly 9 days after graduation. My first client was O.penVape, who hired Gradujuana to recruit an entry-level accountant. O.penVape introduced me to my second client, Canna Advisors, who hired Gradujuana to find a technical writer, construction project manager and executive assistant. I was able to use the revenue I was generating to begin hiring recruiters with experience from well-known recruiting agencies. As time went on, clients began engaging us for high-level roles, such as chief technology officers, sales directors, senior engineers and lots more. We realized we would need to rebrand and that we had outgrown the name Gradujuana. We rebranded to Vangst, the Dutch word for “catch.”
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What does Vangst do?
Humiston: Vangst is an online recruiting platform, specifically for the cannabis industry. Vangst matches candidates with employers for jobs that are needed to be filled. They can range from a budtender to a director of cultivation.
What legalization in NJ could mean for job growth?
Humiston: With the news of New Jersey becoming close to legalization, this could mean a huge boom in job growth for the Garden State. It is the most densely populated state in the United States and its unemployment rate is currently at 4.2 percent. With the help of cannabis, more job opportunities will come to the state and hopefully lower that percentage. We know that our clients will definitely take advantage of the opportunity and metropolitan area so close to New York City.
How could the cannabis industry impact job growth?
Humiston: According to the August U.S. Labor Report, 201,000 jobs were added last month and the U.S. unemployment rate stayed flat. In the cannabis industry, job growth listings grew an astonishing 690 percent from 2017. Also, the average growth of job salaries increased 16.1 percent between 2017 and 2018, accoding to Vangst's reasearch, which built a 2018 salary guide for the cannabis industry, the first of its kind. It can be found at https://blog.vangst.com/cannabis-salary-guide-2018/.
What's your projection on the cannabis industry's growth?
Humiston: The cannabis industry is expected to grow 220 percent by 2019’s end. Cannabis employers are actually listing more jobs than there are candidates right now, which leaves a huge opportunity for Vangst to get in front of newly graduated and undergraduates, at respective colleges, during our career fairs that we host and gain potential candidates. We place job applicants in over 30 states and still growing.
Ed Forbes is the Senior Director for News and Engagement for NorthJersey.com and The Record, as well as for the USA TODAY Network New Jersey. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @edforbes.