The Columbian / Associated Press

Report: Wages growing in state’s marijuana industry

Wages and jobs in the legal marijuana industry may be on the rise in Clark County and across the state.

A new, 28-page report from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy examined employment and wage data for businesses with marijuana licenses in the state of Washington and found growth in wages and number of workers.

From 2014 to 2016, licensed marijuana businesses reported employing an equivalent of 6,049 full-time employees statewide and paying $286.1 million in wages, adjusted for inflation.

For Clark County, the study reported that an equivalent of 222 full-time workers were paid $1.9 million at the end of 2016, earning an average hourly wage of $16.58 and a median hourly wage of $13.01.

Statewide, the average hourly wage was $16.42 and the median hourly wage was $13.42.

One big caveat of the study, said co-author Bethanne Barnes, was that it did not look at the marijuana industry in a vacuum. Researchers cross-referenced marijuana licenses from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board with wage data from the state Employment Security Department, so the success of other products or services could have attributed to the rise in wages and employment.

For example, a farm with a license to grow marijuana could have grown on the strength of another crop and reported paying higher wages or greater numbers of employees.

“These businesses might have operated doing something else and generated the same number of jobs and wages doing something else,” Barnes said. “We didn’t design the study to look at that.”

Still, those businesses seem to have grown substantially. The study reports that 20 percent of that $286.1 million were paid in the final three months of 2016.

Ramsey Hamide, co-owner of Main Street Marijuana, a trio of stores in Clark and Cowlitz County, said they have seen wages and benefits rise for its 95 or so employees.

“Most of our employees earn $15 to $16 an hour plus tips,” he said.

But that’s more of a function of their brand of weed retailer trying to keep employees happy and earning a living wage, he said, because their customers care a lot about whom they buy from. Turnover would disrupt that, he said.

“Even in the black market, you had your guy for years and years and years. We wanted our store to be their guy,” he said. “They’re not the same customers they were three years ago; they’re extremely knowledgeable and come in daily or weekly. If we bring in a new employee and the customers know more than they do, that’s a problem.”

This is the second cost-benefit analysis of the legal marijuana industry after the passage of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults in November 2012 and led to the marketplace today.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy, a nonpartisan research organization governed by the state, released a similar report in 2015.

It will release another in September and in 2022 and 2032.