What Newly Legalized States Mean for Cannabis Jobs

Sean Cooley/Nov 18, 2020

hero-graphic-What Newly Legalized States Mean for Cannabis Jobs

With a “green sweep” in the 2020 general election where five states put cannabis legalization measures on the ballot and all of them passed convincingly, the erosion of Federal cannabis prohibition rolls on. We’re here for it.

Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota have legalized cannabis for adult use, and Mississippi has legalized cannabis for medical use only, changes that will go into effect in 2021.

The trend of states legalizing in waves is always big for the cannabis industry, especially now that 1 in 3 Americans live in states where the plant is legal and 36 of 50 states have medical programs. Not only is this a net positive for adult-use consumers and medical marijuana patients, but it’s also a boon to the states’ economies, translating to additional tax revenue and job creation.

Across the five new legalized states, Vangst projects 26,241 new cannabis jobs will be added by 2025, after licenses are awarded, businesses begin opening up, and the markets fully mature. While cannabis may not be recession-proof - especially coming off of a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic put a sizable dent in jobs growth - industry hiring is now trending back to pre-pandemic levels.


Before we dive into job creation, let’s take a closer look at a few of the common factors at play when any state legalizes cannabis:

The “domino effect” hits neighboring states

For fear-of-missing-out, the domino effect comes into play with interstate rivalries. Once one state goes legal, it instantly becomes a cannabis tourism destination as neighboring states without legal cannabis stand to lose out tax dollars as citizens cross the border to purchase products. Arizona’s legalization effort was greatly influenced by surrounding states with successful markets like California, Nevada, and Colorado. New Jersey’s decision is expected to heavily influence legislation in the tri-state area of New York and Connecticut.

Support for legalization at the state level also applies pressure to the federal government to start adopting important policies that support the industry like banking, decriminalization, and rescheduling cannabis, bringing a long overdue end prohibition.

Public sentiment around cannabis changes for the better

Cannabis opponents tend to default to “slippery slope” bad faith arguments, just three years ago New Jersey’s then-Governor Chris Christie referred to cannabis as “poison” and advocacy efforts as “baloney.” But the growing positive sentiment around allowing access to the plant is clear. Pew Research Center shows that nine-in-ten Americans favor cannabis legalization for recreational or medical purposes, currently an all-time high.

Passing medical marijana measures is often the initial compromise for a new state entering the market, allowing risk-averse politicians to test the waters and build a framework for businesses before opening the door to a mass audience with adult use laws.

Tax revenues shoot up

The U.S. legal market for cannabis sales projects to reach $57 billion by 2027. That’s right, “billion” with a “b.” Mature markets in states like Colorado, California, and Washington have each sailed beyond $1 billion in annual sales.

Communities of color are incentivized to benefit

One element that can’t be overlooked when it comes to ballot measures is how vital a role social equity plays. Voters demand that legislators recognize how social justice and economic development go hand in hand. Many states have implemented social equity programs to create opportunity for individuals who’ve been negatively impacted by The War on Drugs.

By building social equity initiatives into legislation from the start, candidates can advance their entrepreneurial path through priority licensing and developmental resources. This focus on course-correcting from oppressive drug policies aims to lower the barrier to entry for BIPOC business ownership and hiring in order to make the industry more accessible and profitable for people of color.

Political party lines are blurred

Even though it's often positioned as a progressive issue, another factor in the rising count of states’ choosing to legalize cannabis is that the issue is a winner on both sides of the political aisle. A majority of Republicans (55%) and Democrats (78%) favor legalization, that’s in today’s hyper-polarized political environment.

By and large, American voters no longer believe cannabis should be a criminalized, Schedule I substance. This bipartisan support contributes to a bullish attitude within the industry that federal cannabis legalization is just a matter of “when” and not “if.”


New markets grow in phases

The phases of legalization are typically:

Decriminalization - at first, states will either fully or partially decriminalize cannabis possession offenses. Decriminalization means no arrests, prison time, or criminal records for the first-time possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal consumption, treating them akin to a minor traffic violation or civil fine.

Medical Use - cannabis products may be legalized but only qualifying medical patients with a prescription from a physician. Cannabis remains illegal nationally under the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies it as a Schedule I drug with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. But 2014’s Rohrabacher–Farr amendment prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting individuals acting in accordance with state medical cannabis laws, allowing commercial licensing and testing to go on.

Adult Use/Full Legalization - state laws are updated so that cannabis activity is no longer a crime. New rules are written to allow for legal commercial cultivation, distribution, testing, and sales. Legislators are tasked with implementing regulations on issues such as where cannabis is sold, who it's sold to, how to address driving under the influence, how it’s taxed, and whether you can grow at home.

What’s in store for the cannabis job market in newly legalized states?

In order to give the scope of what legalization means to the creation of cannabis jobs, Vangst has built a model to project job growth in New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, and Mississippi.

The algorithm takes into account all plant-touching (companies operating within cultivation, manufacturing, lab/extraction, retail, or delivery sectors) and ancillary (non-plant touching cannabis operations including staffing, data/analytics, payroll, business operations, services, and technology). It weighted population size, potential market size, and current jobs trends, assuming a semi-aggressive onlining process.

Overall, there are 26,241 cannabis jobs projected to open up in these five emerging markets by 2025.


Is Cannabis Legal in Arizona? Yes, Arizona cannabis laws were amended to approve medical marijuana in 2010 and adult-use cannabis in 2020 (with 60.03% voting in favor of Proposition 207).

  • 2019 Sales: $181,500,000
  • Projected 2025 Sales: $876,000,000
  • 2019 Cannabis Jobs: 15,059
  • Projected Cannabis Jobs in Arizona by 2025: 16,037 (+978)

Search Arizona Cannabis Jobs on Vangst


Is Cannabis Legal in Mississippi? Yes, but only for medicinal use, amending Mississippi cannabis laws in 2020 (with 73.9% voting in favor of Initiative 65).

  • 2019 Sales: $0
  • Projected 2025 Sales: $66,000,000
  • 2019 Cannabis Jobs: 0
  • Projected Cannabis Jobs in Mississippi by 2025: 1,509 (+1,509)

Search Mississippi Cannabis Jobs on Vangst


Is Cannabis Legal in Montana? Yes, Montana cannabis laws were amended to allow for medical marijuana in 2016 and adult-use cannabis in 2020 (with 56.90% voting in favor of Initiative 190).

  • 2019 Sales: $92,000,000
  • Projected 2025 Sales: $175,000,000
  • 2019 Cannabis Jobs: 1,800
  • Projected Cannabis Jobs in Montana by 2025: 3,552 (+1,752)

Search Montana Cannabis Jobs on Vangst

New Jersey

Is Cannabis Legal in New Jersey? Yes, New Jersey cannabis laws were amended to permit medical marijuana use in 2010 and then adult-use cannabis in 2020 (with 66.92% voting in favor of Public Question 1).

  • 2019 Sales: $100,000,000
  • Projected 2025 Sales: $1,200,000,000
  • 2019 Cannabis Jobs: 2,356
  • Projected Cannabis Jobs in New Jersey 2025: 21,393 (+19,037)

Search New Jersey Cannabis Jobs on Vangst

South Dakota

Is Cannabis Legal in South Dakota? Yes, South Dakota cannabis laws were amended to allow for both medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis in 2020 (with 54.18% voting in favor of Amendment A).

  • 2019 Sales: $0
  • Projected 2025 Sales: $142,000,000
  • 2019 Cannabis Jobs: 0
  • Projected Cannabis Jobs in South Dakota by 2025: 2,965 (+2,965)

Search South Dakota Cannabis Jobs on Vangst


If you’re gearing up to attain a position in a newly legalized state and work in the cannabis industry, there’s tips sheets can get you ahead of the curve:


Which states could legalize cannabis in 2024 (or sooner)?

As difficult as it can be to predict which ballot measures will appear in the coming midterm and general elections, there looks to be momentum for adult-use cannabis legalization measures in four states:

  • New York - Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers in New York have all expressed interest in coordinating their approaches to legalization and the state looks poised to move forward under Democrat majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly
  • Florida - in 2019, the advocacy group Make It Legal Florida failed to gain enough signatures to qualify a measure for the 2020 ballot under an expedited deadline, however advocates plan to put an adult-use legalization measure on the ballot in 2022
  • Ohio - the legislature has been steadily decriminalizing cannabis in major cities and, while COVID-19 stifled activists’ hopes to place a legalization initiative on the statewide ballot this in 2020, the Ohio senate continues the push to reduce criminal penalties for drug crimes.
  • Missouri - Missouri legalized medical marijuana in 2018 with 66% of the vote and sales have recently begun. Lyndall Fraker, the director of the state’s medical marijuana program expects that adult-use cannabis will be on the state’s ballot in two years.

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