A Budding Industry: Cannabis Workforce Updates 2021

May 20, 2021 - minute read

In spite of COVID-19 slowing the world to a near standstill, the world of legal cannabis has continued to flourish and change in many ways over the past year. According to Leafly, the US’s legal cannabis industry brought in $18.3 billion in 2020, $7.6 billion more than the previous year. With consumer trends persisting healthily into 2021, that number is projected to reach $41.5 billion by 2025.

Cannabis businesses have had to evolve on a variety of fronts to meet consumer and workforce needs, all while growing into a fully matured industry at a straining pace. From grower and manufacturing regulations to state-level laws and employee unionization efforts, a lot more has happened than you probably realize.

For employers looking to safeguard their legal marijuana operations, it’s important to stay up-to-date on industry developments that may be on the horizon for your business. Here are three of the most significant updates in 2021 so far.

Employee Unionization is Here to Stay

Unionization has been coming for the cannabis industry for some time, but efforts to unionize workers kicked into overdrive last October. Ten cannabis facility workforces voted to unionize in Rhode Island, California, DC, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois—encouraging others to follow in their footsteps since.

With more than 321,000 employees now working in legal cannabis, workers want a greater influence over decisions affecting their businesses and the direction the industry is moving as a whole. Rightly so, their input could shape employers’ efforts around elevated operational risks associated with working during the pandemic, as well as potential protections awarded to them by federal and state laws.

Since the Biden administration has taken a labor-forward approach to legislation, attempts at unionization are expected to increase. As an employer, you should stay ahead of budding unionization efforts and consult with an HR specialist on the best ways to prevent employee dissatisfaction and maintain union-free work environments in the meantime.

Agricultural Labor vs. Statutory Employees

In a recent Advice Response Memo, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided that employees of a cannabis growing operation were exempt from the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), thereby denying employees the ability to seek redress from the NLRB for alleged labor law violations. That said, the NLRB also made it clear that this is not a definitive ruling on whether employees of a marijuana enterprise are agricultural laborers or statutory employees.

Although the workers in question perform a substantial amount of agricultural functions within the FLSA-established standards, the fact that they used their hands instead of machines to carry out their work meant they were not involved in “transforming the natural product from its raw state.” As a result, the workers were considered statutory employees instead of agricultural workers.

The Advice Memo should not be read to mean that exempt cannabis or other agricultural workers are unprotected. It has yet to be determined whether or not other cannabis workers who help transform the product are considered agricultural workers. Under the new presidential administration, many are hopeful that a more insight is on its way.

SAFE Banking Act Victory in the House

In other news, cannabis banking reform has gained momentum in recent months towards its goal to safeguard depository institutions who provide financial services to state-legal cannabis businesses. Passing with a 321-101 vote in the House of Representatives, the latest version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is now in the hands of the Senate.

Without access to trustworthy financial institutions and secure payroll/transaction methods, cash-only operations and their employees face greater risks of theft, robbery, and assault. If passed, the legislation will improve operational transparency and financial accountability within the cannabis industry, as well as reduce the extreme risks associated with underregulating sites.

With any luck, the long-awaited law will pass in the Senate and allow cannabis-related businesses and their service providers (including landlords) to be able to access banking systems without fear of federal penalties. Check out our article, “Cannabis Series: Banking for an Unbankable Industry” for more insight.

Cannabis HR News For Employers

At EPAY Systems, we take pride in the technological solutions and HR services we provide to hourly workforces. We seek to support businesses, as well as their individual employees, and adapt to operational needs as things change. The legal cannabis industry is no exception.

We’ve built our Human Capital Management (HCM) platform to handle the unique challenges of your business with flexibility and dependability. Our features go beyond your average workforce management solution to ensure your cannabis industry compliance is maintained- from onboarding and benefits administration, to payroll, scheduling, and trainings.

If you want more cannabis news, be sure to check out our other cannabis-related content! We offer a variety of blogs covering cannabis industry news, onboarding and training guidance, and compliance-related advice.

Looking to take a closer look at our other optimizing tools? See for yourself why our HR solution could be your next best decision, and take our two-minute tour video.

Filed Under: Workforce Management Cannabis