Pennsylvania’s cannabis dispensaries are struggling to fill job roles

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, medical cannabis businesses in Pennsylvania are “essential” and “life-sustaining businesses,” according to state officials. However, fears of the virus proliferating has restricted travel and face-to-face meetings. 

As a direct effect of the COVID-19 social distancing rules, a wide array of cannabis job openings in Pennsylvania remain unfilled. High unemployment rates already plague the state; one in six Pennsylvanians are out of a job since the “lockdown” started. With increasing demand for cannabis, dispensary owners are concerned that their limited number of existing budtenders won’t be sufficient to serve registered patients. 

Although hundreds of jobs are available in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry, applicants are unable to start working – even if they wanted to – since the quarantine situation has forcefully confined residents to their own home. Isolation aside, many residents have been left with no choice but to care for sick loved ones. There’s also the unfortunate few who’ve been struck down with the virus themselves.

COVID-19 situation has put the brakes on criminal background checks 

The hiring process for cannabis businesses in Pennsylvania has been “locked down”, if you will, due to difficulties in conducting the necessary criminal background checks of prospective employees. In addition to this, employers are struggling to carry out mandatory drug testing for cannabis industry workers; offices are being closed to prevent the virus from spreading further.

“It’s just so unbelievably frustrating. I have five clients with over 100 openings. And there are likely hundreds more that are waiting. These are good-paying jobs, many of which come with health-care benefits,” said Harrisburg lawyer Judith Cassel, who represents several medical cannabis businesses. Hopefully, the hiring process will resume as normal in the near future. This is according to a spokesman for the Department of Health (DOH), who says that the Agency is exploring ways to sidestep restrictions caused by COVID-19.

Bottlenecks are not limited to Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis businesses 

The repercussions of COVID-19 have not only been felt in Pennsylvania’s cannabis market but also, in various other industries. For example, New York-based Acreage Holdings revealed at the start of April that it would be laying off 122 employees and making efforts to reduce outgoing costs. Due to the current economic climate, the company will also be suspending its formerly-announced 2020 financial guidance.

Acreage’s announcement is the first of its kind by a major multistate cannabis operator in response to the virus pandemic. In an official news release, the company outlined that it would be cancelling a $120 million acquisition of Nevada-cannabis company Deep Roots.

Additionally, Acreage will be temporarily shutting the doors of certain facilities in a handful of states. The company will also be kissing goodbye to a Rhode Island-based medical cannabis dispensary acquisition that was set to commence in collaboration with Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center. 

Cresco Labs wants to hire Pennsylvanians to work in its dispensaries 

Similarly to Pennsylvania’s cannabis industry, major cannabis company Cresco Labs is also experiencing delays in approving new employees. Headquartered in Chicago with operations extending across 11 U.S. states, Cresco claims that it has stumbled in its efforts to hire 250+ employees in the Illinois area; citing problems with FBI background checks and drug testing procedures. 

“Under normal circumstances it takes two to six weeks to get an employee approved,” said the executive vice president of Cresco, John Sullivan. “But since most state government functions are closed down, and a lot of the fingerprint agencies shut, too, the process is stretching out longer and longer.”

Sullivan’s company cultivates plants for Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis market at a grow site in Pittsburgh. Cresco’s product is sold in four Western Pennsylvania dispensaries. By the time summer comes to an end, Cresco hopes to hire 75 new employees in Southeastern Pennsylvania to work at its Sunnyside medical cannabis dispensary in Center City, as well as two retail stores in Philadelphia’s market.

“We don’t have a huge backlog in Pennsylvania right now,” Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes said. “But we have to hire them before the end of the month for credentialing and badging purposes. Already we’ve had three people waiting weeks to find a place that can do their fingerprints because of the sheltering-in-place.”

At the current time, Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry serves approximately 180,000 registered patients, of whom are assisted by thousands of workers across the state.