A Truly Green Economy

Published March 30th, 2017 -  - 03.30.1713


President Trump has already declared his intention to go down in history as the “greatest jobs producer God ever created.”   He has promised to create 25 million new jobs by 2027.   Since taking office, Trump has made clear that two of the industries he plans to focus on for job creation are coal and manufacturing. Trump has cited his belief that American manufacturing and coal industry jobs are the “backbone of our economy” as the impetus behind his focus on revitalizing these types of jobs.  Now that he’s in office, he is increasing his efforts to revitalize these struggling sectors.  However, Trump is operating in a myopic state that ignores the need for American workers to shift to jobs into emerging sectors, particularly sectors that are relatively more resistant to automation than are manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing jobs have declined as a percentage of the U.S. workforce while overall U.S. manufacturing output has increased.  The loss of jobs points as much to automation as it does jobs moving to less expensive markets like China or Mexico.   Jobs in coal are likely to continue to disappear as they have been for the last 30 years as a result of alternative, cleaner and affordable fuels entering the market. Instead of – or, at least in addition to – focusing on struggling industries, Trump should look to ease job creation in emerging industries.  One such industry that is steadily on the rise was recently flagged as one that his administration may look to quash: legalized marijuana.

Trump Should Think Green

Just last month, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released statements that suggest the Trump Administration may crack down on state-legalized recreational marijuana.  This shift would reverse the 2013 Department of Justice Cole Memo advising federal prosecutors to forgo prosecuting marijuana distributers who complied with strict state and local law. This appears to be a shift from Trump’s own campaign statements that marijuana legalization should be left to the states.

The Trump administration should reconsider initiating a crusade to crack down on legal recreational marijuana sales.  If the Trump Administration revokes the Cole Memo, his goal of creating 25 million new jobs will be that much more difficult.

Cracking down on legal marijuana will result in the elimination of thousands of existing jobs and will thwart the creation of hundreds of thousands of potential future jobs as more and more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana.  The chilling effect from the announcement was seen immediately as prices for shares in marijuana-related businesses dropped the day after the announcement.

The legal marijuana industry currently employs around 100,000 to 150,000 people.  A number of these jobs are resistant to automation and relocation outside of the States.  They range in education and skill set requirements, as there are opportunities along the production line from seed to store.  While some jobs like those related to marijuana growing may become automated, jobs servicing the industry like electrician, banker and security guard resist automation.  And, unlike the 700 manufacturing jobs Trump secured at Carrier, these jobs exist without any federal financial assistance in the form of tax breaks or funding.

A marijuana grower can earn anywhere between $50,000 to over $1 million per year.  The position of “grow master” is the individual who specializes in cultivating strains of marijuana, and commands a salary starting at approximately $100,000.  There are roles for chemists and biologists as well, particularly as the industry has created demand for pesticides that are safe enough to treat marijuana intended for edible production.  The edibles chef has a more hands on role in production creating marijuana infused treats, and earns an annual salary of $40,000 – $90,000.  The role of bud trimmer may also interest you with a starting wage of $12-$13 an hour and minimal formal education requirements.  The bud trimmer is responsible for the important albeit tedious task of pruning the plants in preparation for sale.  There are retail opportunities as well.  As marijuana dispensaries are wholly independent stores, there is a need for store clerks and managers.  The salaries for dispensary managers are between $60,000-$150,000 annually; they often provide health insurance and bonus opportunities similar to managerial positions in traditional retailers.

In addition, the industry supports ancillary jobs like electricians, security guards, real estate brokers, and bookkeepers.  If the Trump administration closed down the legal marijuana industry, they would put just as many Americans out of work as Trump has purportedly saved from unemployment.  While the United States has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs since 2008, the marijuana industry has created nearly half that number in just four years.  These numbers don’t count the potential for new jobs in the four states that recently legalized possession of recreational marijuana but have yet to create the marketplace for marijuana: Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts and California.

The legal marijuana industry is projected to become a $21 billion industry that will employ 300,000 Americans by 2020.  These estimates do not take into account the potential for future states to legalize marijuana.  Legal marijuana, which includes both recreational and medicinal marijuana, is already a $7.2 billion industry.  These jobs will help to replace the 891,000 jobs the United States is projected to lose in manufacturing and agriculture by 2024.

In addition to the jobs of this green economy, there is also tax revenue associated with the industry.  In 2015, Colorado saw $135,100,467 in legal marijuana tax revenue.  For Trinidad, Colorado, a former coal town, the marijuana industry and subsequent tax revenue brought the town back to life.  The opening of a single recreational marijuana store brought with it $800,000 in tax revenue, an increase in tourism, and new jobs in small businesses.  The town replaced decaying water pipes, purchased a new fire engine and invested in their town square.  In Adelanto, California a similar story can be told.  With the influx of marijuana farmers to the town, real estate values have skyrocketed.  For a town with median household incomes of $39,200, becoming a “marijuana town” is bringing much needed revenue to the city in the form of jobs and investment.  There are jobs the city has never had like those related to product production, shipping and receiving and machinery repair.   This is the kind of economic revitalization Trump has promised to many American cities.

If he shuts down the rapidly growing marijuana industry, Trump will force thousands of Americans out of work while contradicting his promise to spur economic growth and create jobs.  Why Trump prioritizes bringing back jobs rather than creating new areas of industry is puzzling.  Perhaps this is an issue of politics, as many voters once held jobs in manufacturing and coal, whereas jobs in emerging markets are seemingly less tangible for voters.  Currently, Trump is seen as a fighter rather than an innovator and that seems to play well for him.  However, he is doing his voters a great disservice by ignoring emerging markets.  The legal marijuana industry is just one such market that Trump can tap into to create enduring American jobs.  The Trump Administration must be more open-minded about potential markets for growth like marijuana and renewable energy if they plan to reach their goal of 25 million new jobs in ten years.

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