With sales of cannabis stabilizing, companies are regaining their appetite for hiring. But staffing priorities have shifted amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.
"The first thing businesses do, during a downturn, is tighten expense structures," said Karson Humiston, CEO and founder of cannabis recruitment platform Vangst.
"The good news is moving into Q3, we are seeing hiring come back across the board across all positions," she added.
The report, compiled by Vangst, cannabis wholesale platform LeafLink, and POS software company Flowhub examines the impact of COVID-19 on cannabis sales and employment trends.
After a turbulent 2019, many cannabis companies — especially giants in Canada — were restructuring and cutting expenses, which oftentimes means layoffs. Cannabis giants Aurora Cannabis ($ACB), Canopy Growth ($CGC), and Tilray ($TLRY) had already cut hundreds of jobs by early March, before the pandemic's effects were truly felt in North America.
Even so, many U.S. companies started the year with growth aspirations. Some 70 percent of ancillary cannabis companies, 77 percent of plant-touching companies, and a whopping 89 percent of vertically integrated cannabis companies surveyed in the report were looking to hire at the start of 2020. Then, the pandemic hit. With it came cost-cutting and health-related furloughs and layoffs. Some 70 percent of the 39 companies surveyed in the report underwent pandemic-related layoffs or furloughs. 
Months later, as sales have rebounded, so too have hiring appetites. According to the report, 68 percent of companies plan to resume hiring in the second half of 2020. Hiring priorities, however, have shifted.
Almost 20 percent of plant-touching cannabis companies prioritized filling C-suite and executive roles at the start of 2020. But after the onset of the pandemic, only about 5 percent still considered executive hiring one of their top three priorities. Demand for sales jobs has remained consistent throughout the pandemic, whereas marketing and IT workers have become increasingly in-demand.
Coronavirus-related restrictions prompted companies to pivot quickly, demonstrating the importance of a digital focus. About 79 percent of companies surveyed by Vangst introduced curbside pickup and delivery, and 43 percent increased focus on digital marketing and e-commerce. IT jobs also rose as a top-three hiring priority for U.S. cannabis companies surveyed, according to the report. Experts expect IT jobs will remain in-demand.
"We are in a unique industry where we collect a lot of data. Track and trace, ID scanning, monitoring movement of product … [cannabis is] sitting in an untapped goldmine of data," Hanson said.
In spite of coronavirus-related layoffs and restructuring in 2019, jobs in the cannabis industry are expected to continue to grow as the industry matures.
At the close of 2020, Marijuana Business Daily projects there will be some 295,000 jobs in U.S. cannabis — up about 50 percent from the 200,000 reported in 2019. Marijuana Business Daily tallies cannabis-specific jobs like budtenders and trimmers, alongside workers that provide cannabis companies with more general functions like HR and marketing.
Should the industry reach that goal, there will be more cannabis workers than air transportation workers, athletes, industrial engineers, or real estate brokers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And by 2024, Marijuana Business Daily estimates the industry will add some 280,000 jobs. At a time when the economy is struggling and politicians across the country are already eyeing the industry as a source of potential tax revenue, continued job growth can only help legalization's cause. 
"[Cannabis] is a golden goose states are willing to tap into," said Michael Hanson, director of data science at Flowhub.