Marijuana industry group says Missouri cannabis companies filled more than 4,500 jobs since last year

Gregory J. Holman
Springfield News-Leader
The Farmer's Wife Dispensary on Chestnut Expressway on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.

When the latest medical marijuana dispensary approved to operate in Springfield began recruiting to fill six new jobs, 600 people put in applications.

That's "a good problem to have," said David Brodsky, director of retail for The Farmer's Wife. The locally-owned dispensary held its Springfield grand opening the weekend of Aug. 20. The company has two other stores, one in West Plains that opened April 20 and one in Mountain Grove that opened May 29.

About 25 people work at the three stores, Brodsky said.

John Lopez, an owner of Old Route 66 Wellness, the first dispensary to open in Missouri's third-largest city, said they received more than 500 applications before opening last fall. He said the locally-owned company now has 45 employees and is recruiting delivery drivers, security personnel and managers.

Patients select medical marijuana at Old Route 66 Wellness dispensary in November 2020. John Lopez, dispensary owner, said the company had more than 500 applications before opening. On Sept. 3, 2021, he said the company now employs 45 people and is recruiting for delivery drivers, security personnel and management.

Missouri's fledgling cannabis industry has seen these types of numbers throughout the state. St. Louis-based MoCannTrade, the state's biggest association of marijuana-industry players, said Friday that through late August, Missouri regulators reported issuing 4,584 state agent ID cards permitting people to work in medical cannabis facilities. 

That compares to just 200 agent IDs issued in early September 2020, as the industry was getting ready to serve its first legal patients. The first licensed Missouri dispensaries began opening in the St. Louis area in mid-October, and within weeks dispensaries in southwest Missouri including ones in Cassville and Springfield began selling marijuana products for the first time since voters authorized a medical cannabis program in November 2018.

More:Missouri orders defunct medical marijuana card clinic to repay investors

"We've definitely tried to be efficient with hiring," said Brodsky, with The Farmer's Wife. "We've seen a lot of interest in these jobs because they are slightly better-paying jobs and folks want to get in on the ground floor."

Brodsky said entry-level budtenders in the Missouri industry are typically earning $13 to $15 per hour. 

Kim Andrews, part owner and general manager of OzaRX Botanicals in Springfield, which opened early this year, also said that those starting dispensary wages are typical. As applicants seek to enter the "ground floor" of the new industry, she said she sometimes hears from Missouri natives who worked in California's cannabis industry. They are eager to return to their home state and serve legal patients, she said.

Kim Andrews, one of the owners of OzaRX Botanicals marijuana dispensary, talks about what it has taken to get the business up and running on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2020.

"We have had very little turnover," Andrews said. Recently, she was able to easily fill two positions that opened up at her dispensary by working "with people who had come in and left their resumes."

Cindy Northcutt, a Springfield cannabis lawyer and industry consultant, noted that the medical marijuana is a highly-regulated industry.

"It's not just slinging cannabis," she said. "This is a compliance business first and foremost, and the rules that we have to follow are more onerous than in any other industry, including pharmaceuticals."

More:Springfield's Parkcrest neighborhood gets a medical marijuana dispensary, Shango

Majority of licensed marijuana companies now approved to operate

Data released Friday by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services shows 235 of Missouri's 380 licensed cannabis companies have now been approved to operate, among them some 140 retail dispensaries out of roughly 200 that voters authorized in Article 14 of the state constitution.

Patients line up outside Old Route 66 Wellness dispensary on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, for a "VIP event" to purchase medical marijuana from the first dispensary to open in Springfield, two years after Missouri voters added medical marijuana to the state constitution.

In a Friday news release, MoCannTrade cited data from a Marijuana Business Daily analysis indicating the Missouri cannabis industry's first year of legal sales and operation is expected to create more new jobs, at least $800 million in direct spending and another $570 million in indirect spending.

State marijuana program data released Friday shows that legal cannabis patients spent a little over $21 million in Missouri dispensaries in July and $21.7 million during August.

"Just as patient demand has far surpassed early projections, interest among prospective medical cannabis workers has consistently blown the roof off our license operators’ expectations," said Andrew Mullins, MoCannTrade's executive director, in a news release.

More:Locally-owned dispensary The Farmer's Wife to open northeast Springfield location

Feds: U.S. recovers 17 million jobs lost to COVID-19

Missouri's cannabis industry news comes as federal data released Friday showed a slowing pace for hiring in the overall U.S. economy amid COVID-19 surges in pockets of the country. In August, 235,000 jobs were added, considered a disappointing performance by many observers.

So far, the U.S. has recovered 17 million, or 76 percent, of the 22.4 million jobs lost in the spring of last year, leaving the nation 5.3 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level.

But, USA TODAY reported, employment gains for June and July were revised up by a combined 134,000 jobs. July's jobs-added total was pushed above 1 million, the largest increase since August 2020.

Reach News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by emailing gholman@gannett.com. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.