MA: Marijuana, Casino To Impact Valley Job Market

Photo Credit: Brennan Linsley

The newly legal recreational marijuana industry in Massachusetts and the opening of the MGM Springfield resort casino later this year are sure to have an impact on the Pioneer Valley economy.

While it will take awhile to determine their long-term effect on the region’s economic health, one thing is for certain: both industries have hung out their help-wanted signs.

Voters in November 2016 approved a ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission is expected to issue its final regulations March 15, and to begin accepting applications April 1 for licensing marijuana businesses. Legal sales will start July 1.

Medical marijuana dispensaries will receive priority in the recreational pot licensing process, and they are already hiring. About 350 people attended a job fair in November to staff the INSA Inc. medical marijuana dispensary that opened during February at the Keystone Mill building on Pleasant Street in Easthampton, and nearly 1,000 more applied online, according to general manager Ian Kelly.

The INSA dispensary has 50 employees with backgrounds in areas including horticulture, botany, molecular science, chemistry, accounting, retail and security, Kelly said. He anticipates a similar interest in jobs at INSA’s dispensary in Springfield that is expected to have 20 workers this spring. He predicts that hiring will increase when recreational sales begin this summer.

“As the industry continues to grow, both for patients and in the near future with recreational cannabis sales, the need for talented team members will only continue to develop,” Kelly said.

Cannabis-specific jobs at dispensaries include growers, trimmers, budtenders and edible creators. Listings on the SimplyHired website for edible manufacturing assistants and trim team members at Massachusetts dispensaries offer annual salaries of between $22,000 and $31,000.

Positions such as a state-contracted compliance officer pay between $32 and $46 an hour, and a bookkeeper with knowledge of regulations governing the state’s medical marijuana program may earn between $40,000 and $53,000 a year.

New Frontier Data, which analyzes the legal cannabis industry, reports that it employed 121,000 people nationally in 2017, and that number is expected to increase to more than 283,000 by 2020.

In particular, growth is expected in testing. Massachusetts requires that medical cannabis be tested for contaminants by laboratories certified by the state Department of Public Health. Among those are the Massachusetts Cannabis Research Labs in Framingham, whose president and founder, Michael Kahn, said has grown from two to 18 full-time employees in recent years.

He said recreational marijuana likely will have similar testing requirements. “What we do expect is a change in volume, so we’re hiring more analysts and training them now so that we’re ready,” he said. “We draw from pharmaceutical, agricultural and environmental chemistry. We have to have a lab that combines elements from all different labs, and we train our analysts on a cross section of a whole lot of different disciplines.”

In Springfield, MGM is operating a career center at 1259 East Columbus Ave. to offer job information and assist applicants for employment. Besides table games dealers, MGM is hiring barbers, hair stylists and massage therapists, as well as food servers and more specialized employees such as a pastry chef and butcher.

The $960 million resort casino will include a hotel, spa, movie theater, bowling alley and restaurants, and 3,000 employees will keep it operating around the clock once it opens in September. According to MGM, the total compensation package for its workers, including tips and benefits, will average about $45,000 a year.

Training is available at area schools. The Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has a casino management certificate program.

Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College joined with MGM to open a Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute in downtown Springfield. In February, it began offering classes in blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, carnival games and mini-baccarat.

HCC also partnered with MGM to expand its culinary program by constructing a $6.43 million institute in downtown Holyoke with five European-style kitchens.

This is the year when marijuana and the state’s first resort casino will offer additional legal recreational pastimes — as well as employment opportunities — in the Pioneer Valley.