During last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama made the controversial declaration that he would sign an executive order raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers. Notably absent from his speech was any mention of the fastest-growing industry in America, an industry that has consistently and voluntarily paid its workers above the minimum wage, even at lower skilled entry level positions.
In 1980, the federal minimum wage was $3.10 per hour, which adjusted for inflation would be about $8.76 today. The current minimum wage has been so devalued in terms of cost of living that one in every six Americans live below the federal poverty level. Assuming an employee is working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year (no vacation or days off), she would earn a yearly salary of approximately $15,000. A yearly salary of $15,000 is considered pretty poor in almost any region, but even then a single American is not considered to be in poverty by federal guidelines unless they are earning $11,490 a year or less.
In 2012, two states legalized recreational sales of marijuana. In 2014, we have seen legal recreational sales begin in Colorado and are anticipating the start in Washington State. California has toyed with legalization since 2010, and although recreational sales aren’t yet legal, the medical industry has created a wealth of jobs that pay above the minimum wage even for entry level and unskilled labor positions. Most legally operated and regulated dispensaries also offer benefits and opportunity for advancement.
According to Aaron Justis, President of Buds & Roses Collective in Studio City, Calif., it is industry standard to pay above minimum wage and cultivate dedicated employees for advanced positions.
“We look for long-term employees passionate about their job. We pay between $12-16 an hour for most positions,” Justis said.
He says it is difficult to provide these living wages to employees as well as benefits, workers’ compensation, city taxes, state taxes and liability insurance. But, he posits, it is worth the cost because his business is looking at long-term success, and high employee turnover is expensive for a small business in a fast-growing industry.
“The dispensaries I have worked for and with over the past seven years have all offered benefits, from health and dental insurance to 401ks and have started above minimum wage,” says Rachael Szmajda also of Oakland, Calif., “Starting rates with dispensaries range from $12-16 an hour depending on the position being filled, California’s minimum wage was just this last year, in July, raised from $8 to $9 an hour.”
Since Barack Obama took office in 2009, Drug War spending to raid, arrest and prosecute marijuana offenses has increased, despite mountains of valid research proving the efficacy of medical marijuana, the overall safety of cannabis as compared to other intoxicants and the needed economic boon it has provided to a nation hard hit by war spending and government infighting.
Yet, Obama has consistently laughed off the topic in his public dialogues, and just last week said he thought it was no more dangerous than alcohol (in fact, it’s less dangerous, if not altogether benign). His administration has paid lip service to the pro-legalization and medical movements, but has made no significant step to stop the wasteful prosecution of cannabis users, producers and small businesses amid the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
Change we can believe in would be acknowledging not just scientific research and fiscal waste in our current drug policies, but also embracing an industry that could improve the quality of life of so many Americans.