Cleveland’s Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Could Be Huge

GIBSONBURG, Ohio – Erik Vaughan was one of four employees at northwest Ohio’s Standard Wellness Co. just six months ago. Now with 45 employees, the company is moving forward with plans to cultivate, process and sell medical marijuana.

Standard Wellness is one example of many rapidly growing companies in the industry that need to fill job openings in Ohio.

“We had to go out of state to find specialists and managers for our cultivation business. With our state-of-the art facility here in Gibsonburg (near Sandusky), it was an easy sell to get people to move from Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Mexico,” Vaughan said. “We have a large-scale commercial business, and we needed to hire them so that they could pass on knowledge to other employees. It’s an exciting time.”

But Standard Wellness, which plans to double its number of employees in the next 12 to 18 months, isn’t the only one facing the hiring need. Industry insiders say there just aren’t enough people with marijuana experience, so they are recruiting from other fields and training them.

Nationwide, marijuana-related job openings rose 76 percent from December 2017 to December 2018, with 1,512 open roles posted in that final month of 2018 alone, according to Glassdoor. Back in 2017, that number was only 858. Jobs in cultivation, extraction, retail and ancillary businesses have salaries that range from $22,000 to $300,000.

While no specific numbers for Ohio’s fledgling medical-marijuana-jobs market are available yet, industry experts say Ohio is part of that national job-growth trend. Yet, while there is growth, the new industry can have some downside for employees too.

“The biggest surprise has been the level of interest from the community for all of our job openings,” Vaughan said. “For the six dispensary spots we recently opened, we had 190 applicants. In general, we’ve been getting about 20 to 30 applicants for every job opening we post.”

Marijuana-related companies are hiring in fields from plant-tending to administration. Most Ohio jobs, right now, are in dispensaries and in cultivation. But that’s going to change.

Robin Ann Morris, CEO of MaryJane Agency in Sandusky, says her company has collected more than 500 resumes and video interviews throughout the state in the past year.

Job growth flourishing

Last year at this time, James Yagielo, a North Ridgeville native and CEO of Hempstaff, was hosting classes in Cleveland for people eager to get into the industry. Since that time, the South Florida-based national company has held classes in Cincinnati and Columbus, as well. About 90 people showed up for the most recent half-day seminar in Cleveland on Feb. 23.

Class participants in 20 states range from medical professionals to career-changers. They learn that entry level jobs including watering plants, taking soil samples, and working at dispensaries generally pay about $15 an hour, while a master grower in Ohio can expect to earn between $100,000 to $120,000 a year.

The industry has four main career areas, according to a story in U.S. News and World Report:

  • Cultivation — people with botany expertise grow marijuana plants.
  • Extraction — chemists and laboratory technicians process flowers and leaves to draw out oils used to create pills, ointments and edibles.
  • Retail — dispensary workers sell products to customers.
  • Ancillary commerce — web developers, recruiters and marketers help the other sectors

The skills needed to land these jobs vary. Some employees are marijuana experts; others simply have previous career experience, such as accounting or office management.

“This year, 2019 is going to be a big year in Ohio,” Yagielo said. “That’s when hundreds if not thousands of people will be getting jobs. That first year of operations is when 90 percent of job openings are filled in a new state’s marijuana industry.”

Ohio medical marijuana dispensaries sold 8.7 pounds of marijuana flower for about $75,000 in total first-day sales, according to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.

Those sales were made through just four dispensaries that opened for their first days of business on Wednesday, Jan. 16.

The state, which can license up to 60 dispensaries, issued 56 provisional licenses to those retail operations last June. According to state records, just five at present have certificates of operation, which are required for them to conduct sales.

The other critical entities in the marijuana supply chain besides dispensaries and processors are cultivators and testing labs.

Ohio has provisionally licensed 29 cultivators in total; 14 so far have received certificates of operation. The state originally planned to license 12 small and large growers each but has opted to issue additional licenses. Dispensaries had products to sell this week because of fast-moving cultivators like Eastlake’s Buckeye Relief LLC.

Five testing labs have received provisional licenses, but just two have been cleared for operation.

There are currently 374 physicians certified to recommend medical marijuana in Ohio, according to the state, and more than 3,575 patients have signed on to the patient registry since it launched in December.

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