Marijuana salary survey: State differences for cultivators, trimmers, budtenders

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Our 2019 salary data reveals regional trends that were echoed by industry observers. Perhaps the most significant: East Coast companies in search of candidates with marijuana industry experience are pulling employees away from West Coast rivals by offering better pay and perks.

“Pretty much across the board the East Coast tends to pay a little more than the West Coast, and the Northeast and mid-Atlantic seem to have the best salaries right now,” said James Yagielo, CEO of HempStaff.

Vangst CEO Karson Humiston agreed. “We’re seeing that a ton, and the reason is because there aren’t a ton of people out there with this experience. How many people have large-scale commercial, compliant cannabis cultivation, cannabis extraction, retail store dispensary management experience?”

Yagielo noted that compensation doesn’t fluctuate only between states but also within states, depending on the cost of living for a particular locale. The cost of living in Seattle or Boston will be much higher than in eastern Washington state or western Massachusetts.

Salaries can also depend on the particular business—is it a basic dispensary, or does it try to feel like a pharmacy or the doctor’s office?

“Some companies only hire people that worked in pharmacies before. Those positions can get $15 to $20 per hour,” Yagielo said. “Whereas in Florida, a lot of these companies are hiring anyone off the street for $10 an hour.”

Cannabis salary highlights

Cannabis jobs in Maryland consistently pay more than other states in all categories for which Marijuana Business Magazine collected data.

    • Maryland’s medical marijuana industry raked in nearly $100 million in its first year of operations—more than the combined first year medical sales in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York. It is possible salaries will adjust somewhat as this new market matures.
    • Dispensary managers in Maryland and Massachusetts make more than dispensary managers in California, Colorado, Illinois and Oregon.
    • A dispensary manager in Maryland earns an average of $75,500—twice as much as the average $37,500 earned by dispensary managers in Oregon. As of early 2019, Maryland had 71 active medical dispensaries, while Oregon had four medical dispensaries and 605 recreational dispensaries.

Master extractors in California and North Carolina are paid more than master extractors in Colorado and Pennsylvania.

    • Master extractors specializing in hemp are earning up to $120,000 per year in North Carolina, while the salary for a master extractor in Colorado may top out at $70,000.
    • Master cultivators are paid more in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania than master cultivators in Alaska, Colorado, Illinois and Rhode Island.
    • Master cultivators in Massachusetts earn $120,000-$150,000 per year—up to twice as much as the $70,000-$80,000 earned in Alaska.

Budtenders in California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts earn more than their counterparts in Arizona, Michigan and Oregon.

    • A budtender in Massachusetts can earn $12-$14 per hour, while a budtender in Arizona may earn $10-$12 per hour. The Sperling’s Best Places website rates the cost of living in Massachusetts at 139—higher than Arizona at 112—but both are above the nationwide average of 100.

Trimmers in Colorado earn more than trimmers in California and Washington state.

    • Trimmers in California earn $10-$12.50 per hour and Washington state trimmers earn $12, while trimming in Colorado can command $12-$16 per hour. An experienced trimmer in Colorado can earn about $2,000 more than a trimmer in Washington state over the course of three months.