OP-ED: Cannabis: The latest economic grower

Kevin Schreiber
York County Economic Alliance
With the possible legalization of recreational use on the radar, large marijuana companies are looking at a $22.7 billion national market by 2023. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Let’s dispense with the weed jokes on the onset …

Last month, the York County Economic Alliance hosted our Economics Club breakfast series on the Economics of the Cannabis Industry. We welcomed two leaders — GTI (Green Thumb Industries), the operator of RISE Medical Marijuana (MMJ) growth and dispensary facilities; and Groff North America, part of the Wyndridge Farm Family, who has stepped into the industrial hemp and CBD industries.

It’s evident the cannabis industry is growing, thriving and impacting the economy in ways we have only just begun to comprehend. 2018 was Pennsylvania’s first year in the MMJ program, and GTI alone experienced transactions totaling $132 million. By comparison, neighboring Maryland generated just under $100 million in their first year. Industry leaders equate this to the forethought and inclusion of PTSD and chronic pain as qualifying conditions for MMJ patients in PA. The projections after quarter one of 2019 are approximately $175 million.

With this volume of profit comes job growth. Between the 10 states with legalized recreational use of marijuana, and 34 green lit for medicinal use, the cannabis industry job market employs 211,000 directly nationwide. They experienced a 44% increase in 2018, making it the fastest growing job sector in the country right now. In Pennsylvania, only 90 people were employed in the sector at the beginning of 2018, and that has increased to 3,878 — if you’re doing the math, that’s a 4,208% increase. (Yes, 420 is in that percent …)

More:Pa. becomes second state to submit plan for commercial hemp growth

More:Canadian cannabis giant buys Pennsylvania-based hemp company

More:Legal marijuana industry had banner year in 2018

And that is just medical marijuana. Pennsylvania has also issued 350-plus growing permits for the cultivation of industrial hemp. In 2019, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 acres of hemp will be farmed in just Pennsylvania. Groff North America is building Hemplex, right here in Red Lion, to become an industrial hemp research park — the first in the United States. With the purchase of the HempTrain equipment, they’re able to process the whole plant, producing materials for health and wellness, textiles, automotive, agriculture, construction, logistics and additional industries. It’s essentially the cotton gin, for hemp.

The economic impact here is uncapped. For example, the CBD industry, hemp derived, is projected to be a $16 billion market by 2025. Groff North America has also answered this call, opening Farmacy Partners physician-owned retail store providing hemp and CBD healthcare products.

The direct benefits, as we know, are the jobs and tax revenue generated, but indirectly, marketing agencies, banking systems, fulfillment centers, web developers and retail shops will feel this economic boom as well from the new market on the scene.

One of the most notable impacts will be to the farming industry, which experienced a $9 billion net decline in 2018, with the lack of a cash crop. Now, the hemp industry is breathing new life into the crop cycle. Hemp for fiber allows traditional farmers using large scale agricultural equipment to earn strong profits from a rotational crop. Vegetable- and tobacco-style farmers also have the opportunity to farm hemp for CBD and other cannabinoid extracts.

Regardless of your personal opinion, we can’t ignore the incredible and vast impact this industry is having in our country, our commonwealth, and our county. We’re proud these industries are leading the charge while calling York County home. It’s truly high times in YoCo.

— Kevin Schreiber is president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance.