CO Cannabusinesses: Bogarting Restaurant Employees?
The legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado has been a huge benefit to the state’s economy, with sales in July reaching $100 million. Annually, it has become a billion dollar industry, despite remaining federally illegal. Colorado’s unemployment rates have dropped to one of the lowest ever seen in United States history, and, nationally, the cannabis industry will provide more jobs than manufacturing by 2020. This seems like great news overall, but there’s one Colorado industry that’s been left scrambling to keep employees since cannabis took off: restaurants.
Restaurant work is, for the most part, poorly paid and exhausting. The hours are long and irregular, and almost always involve long nights, holidays, and, in general, working when everyone else is having fun. Employees may be forced to take on-call shifts, or have their hours slashed depending on sales. Full-time positions are rare, and with a schedule that varies weekly, it can be hard to get a second job. When you factor in all these elements, it’s not difficult to see why employees are leaving for the cannabis industry in droves. Bryan Dayton, a Colorado restauranteur, explains it this way, “You can come work in a kitchen for us for eight hours a day, in a hot kitchen. It’s a stressful life. Or you can go sort weed in a climate-controlled greenhouse. It’s a pretty obvious choice.”
Mo' Money, No Problems
While a budtender or other dispensary employee is most likely making $10-$12 per hour (with a few earning up to $15), entry-level (or near entry-level) cultivation positions can yield as much as $22. Lock down a full time job at that rate, and you’re looking at gross earnings of $45,000 per year plus benefits. Toss in the huge decrease in stress, and the cannabis industry is even more appealing.
And there’s another factor: edibles.“Pastry chefs are in high demand in the pot world. Laced candies and gummy bears are sought-after treats when they are made well, so pastry chefs and cooks can make them for three to four times the money a restaurant can pay. All this just exacerbates an already tight work force in Denver,” says restauranteur Jennifer Jasinski.
But restaurants are a bigger industry than cannabis; why aren’t they competing? Simply put, they can’t. Restaurants generally operate with a profit margin as small as one fifth of what a retailer, or member of many other industries, would. This means they cannot suddenly offer their employees $20 per hour or more.
If that wasn’t enough, restaurant owners are reporting a slight dip in alcohol sales, which they attribute to people using cannabis instead. There is one positive, though: more restaurant patrons are coming in with the munchies.
Don't go quitting your job, moving to a recreational state, and expect to wind up living the sweet life as a full-time cultivator or trimmer just yet. These jobs are highly sought after and the majority of industry employees are making less. Still, the opportunities are exciting and will only expand.
As of 2017, there are 165,000 to 235,000 people employed by the cannabis industry nationwide. With business expected to expand exponentially, it’s high time Colorado restaurant owners considered a new business model!