Can Cannabis Save America's Middle Class? - Rolling Stone
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Jeff Radway: Could Cannabis Become the Job Creator of the Century?

While so many other consumer industries have been shaken, cannabis has flourished during the darkness.

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Ian Miller -

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

For a Michigan native like me, symbols of the automotive industry’s impact are a constant and natural sight. Where I live, passing mostly Ford vehicles on the highway is normal. Seeing giant Goodyear tire sculptures alongside the road is of no note, and the massive UAW building set against the mirror of Lake Michigan is a dear and familiar sight.

In my town, the impact of the automobile on American society is constant and undeniable — and that’s not a bad thing. Cars have offered an economic lift to our state ever since Henry Ford inadvertently invented the middle class in 1914 when he patented a way to churn out Model T’s by the thousands each day.

By paying a steady $5 daily wage, 100% more than anyone else paid at the turn of the last century, Ford created an opportunity, and opportunity is what America stands for. According to research from Michigan State University, that opportunity allowed families to grow into prosperity that reached across the nation in a movement we know as the middle class.

Decades onward, this was the world in which I grew up, and while I now find the prejudices of that day abhorrent, I find myself sometimes nostalgic for the security that my family found in Michigan’s middle class in the 1960s and ’70s. My grandmother lent me the money to start my own yard care business when I was still in high school. She kept a small ledger next to the sugar bowl on her kitchen table where she recorded the cash repayments I made each Saturday afternoon when I returned from mowing neighbor’s lawns. She wanted me to know that money had meaning beyond its face value, that there is an intrinsic weight to earning one’s own way. That’s a lesson I took to heart as a middle-class kid in Michigan fortunate to have a safe home, a free education and enough food to eat.

Today, Michigan is a place of absences. U.S.-bred industries like the automotive have moved overseas, and frankly — many think that a new Model T would be welcomed. I think that it’s here already.

We call it cannabis — and it’s an industry with unparalleled potential.

For example, according to a recent report by the cannabis media platform Leafly, there are more legal cannabis professionals nationwide than there are electrical engineers, dentists and paramedics. In Michigan, more than half of those cannabis-related jobs were added just in 2020 alone. Referring specifically to Michigan, the report dryly notes, “In a state known for its auto industry, the number of cannabis workers is now roughly equal to the number of auto repair mechanics.”

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All told, the Leafly report estimates that the jobs added across the U.S. in 2020 number over 77,000, representing a “32% year over year job growth, an astonishing figure in the worst year for U.S. economic growth since World War II.” In fact, since 2017, the U.S. cannabis industry has averaged 27.5% growth, which is unmatched by any other industry in the country. Meanwhile, the rest of the U.S. economy contracted by 3.5%, unemployment overall doubled, and some 10 million workers lost their jobs entirely.

Once it’s completely legal across the nation, cannabis is an industry that is expected to provide millions of jobs and is an industry — unlike cars — that should stay in the U.S. as it blooms. The Marijuana Business Factbook last year estimated the national economic impact of this burgeoning industry between $106 billion to $130 billion by 2024 if allowed to grow productively.

We’ve certainly seen its impact on individual states in which it’s been legalized. Here in Michigan, 2020 sales generated nearly $1 billion in revenues, and the Michigan Regulatory Agency (MRA) estimates a regular intake of $3 billion annually once the market matures. California expects $1 billion in cannabis tax revenue for 2020. Data shows Illinois passing the $1 billion mark in legal cannabis sales in 2020.

As one of the largest employers in Michigan’s capital city of Lansing, where our headquarters are currently located, Skymint Brands sees firsthand how cannabis creates jobs, even during a pandemic. Deemed “essential” across the country, America’s cannabis industry has experienced remarkable growth since we were first shuttered indoors by the coronavirus last March. We fundamentally believe that cannabis represents a rising tide that can lift all boats. This market represents opportunities that are good for our communities, businesses and, ultimately, our country.

In 2020, according to Leafly’s findings, our industry sold $18.3 billion worth of product and supported 321,000 full-time jobs. The cannabis industry created this value last year without access to the regular security of banking and without even basic insurance programs available to every other business. Across the country, the industry did it with a concurrent illicit market competing against us every step of the way. We did it without being able to sell products between states as we do with automobiles or soybeans. Our industry is the industry of the 21st century — and it may just save us all.

This has undoubtedly been a terrible time in our country, but while so many other consumer industries have been shaken, cannabis has flourished during the darkness, proving that it can be the job creator and economic driver we need as we look to a much brighter future.

America’s middle class was born in Michigan, and I believe we can lead the way to once again find the rise of the middle class. A new middle class could bring our economy back to its feet and our values back where they work best, in tolerance and support, able to connect to one another meaningfully and frankly — through joy.

That’s the country I want to live in. Smack in the middle of it all.

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