Pot legalization in California brings a bonanza of government jobs
Scientists. Tax collectors. Typists. Analysts. Lawyers. And more scientists.
Recreational marijuana use becomes legal in California in 2018, and one of the things to blossom in the emerging industry isn’t green and leafy, it’s government jobs.
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The state is on a hiring binge to fill what eventually will be hundreds of new government positions by 2019 intended to bring order to the legal pot economy, from keeping watch on what’s seeping into streams near cannabis grows to running background checks on storefront sellers who want government licenses. Thousands of additional jobs are expected to be added by local governments.
The swiftly expanding bureaucracy represents just one aspect of the complex challenge faced by California: Come January, the state will unite its longstanding medical cannabis industry with the newly legalized recreational one, creating what will be the United States’ largest legal pot economy.
Last January, just 11 full-time workers were part of what’s now known as the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the state’s chief regulatory agency overseeing the pot market. Now, it’s more than doubled, and by February the agency expects to have more than 100 staffers.
The agency is moving into new offices later this year, having outgrown its original quarters. It’s expected new satellite offices will eventually spread around the state.
There also will be scores of jobs added to issue licenses for sellers, growers, truck drivers, manufacturers and others working in the projected $7-billion industry. The state has taken to Facebook to lure applicants.
The bureau is using a video snippet of actor Jim Carrey, hammering his fingers into a computer keyboard, to catch the eye of prospective applicants online. “Get those applications in ... before this guy beats you to it,” it reads.
“New job just ahead,” reads another post. “We’re hiring.”
This year’s state budget contained about $100 million to fund regulatory programs for marijuana, which includes personnel to review and issue licenses, watch over environmental conditions and carry out enforcement.
Planned hiring into 2018 covers a range of state agencies: Fifty people are bound for the Public Health Department, 65 are slated to join the Water Resources Control Board, and 60 are expected at the Food and Agriculture Department, which will oversee licensing for cultivators.
Some of the work is highly specialized.
Environmental scientists will be responsible for developing standards for pot farms near streams, to make sure fertilizer or pesticides do not taint the water or harm fish. An engineer will monitor groundwater and water being diverted to nourish plants. Lawyers are needed to help sort out complex issues involving the state’s maze of environmental laws.
Pay varies with position but can be attractive, with some scientist posts paying over $100,000 annually. Special investigators with the Consumer Affairs Department could earn in the $80,000 range.
Policing cannabis cultivation, legal and not, has been a long-running concern in the state. Recently, Republican state Sen. Ted Gaines of El Dorado urged Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in Siskiyou County because of what he called rampant illegal marijuana grows.
Gaines said criminals are treating the county as “their own illicit greenhouse” while polluting waterways with pesticides and other waste.
Meanwhile, state and local governments are rushing to enact rules to govern the new pot economy, a process that so far has produced mixed results.
The state says it will be ready to begin issuing licenses in January, albeit temporary ones.
In coastal Mendocino County, about 700 cultivators have applied for local permits, though it’s estimated thousands of people grow pot in the county north of San Francisco. The fear is that many growers and sellers will remain in the black market, undercutting legitimate sales.
“My biggest concern is that the state regulations may prove to be so onerous that it will discourage people who want to be legally compliant from coming forward,” said John McCowen, who chairs the county Board of Supervisors.
“And that will mean greater opportunity for those operating in the black market,” McCowen added.
While the state is adding jobs to oversee the marketplace, law enforcement will face new demands that come with a price tag, from keeping roads free of stoned drivers to helping weed out illegal operators.
The California Highway Patrol is expanding training for officers to identify intoxicated drivers. In cities that permit cultivation, manufacturing or sales, police duties could also include protecting legitimate operators from gangs intent on pushing them out of business.
And a key issue will be keeping legally grown pot from moving into the black market.
To combat illegal activity, whether through code enforcement or policing, “we are going to have to invest,” said Gardena Police Chief Edward Medrano, who heads the California Police Chiefs Assn.
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