The budding recreational marijuana industry could come at a high cost for some foodservice operations. On Election Day (Nov. 8), Massachusetts, California, Nevada and Maine followed Colorado, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia into the hazy territory of legalizing recreational weed.
Here are some potential side effects of the new policies, shared by operators in states that have taken the first hit.
Greener grass for job applicants
Finding cooks to work in commercial kitchens is impossible with Colorado’s low unemployment rate, says Lisa Poggas, nutrition and environmental services director at Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker, Colo. Anecdotally, Poggas believes workers at this skill level are fleeing to greener pastures in the marijuana industry.
According to a state-commissioned study by the Marijuana Policy Institute, the marijuana business in Colorado created more than 18,000 new jobs in 2015.
“It’s really difficult,” Poggas says. “We are trying different options. Right now, we are trying to work through our culinary programs to find candidates.” Still, she says even nearby culinary schools have experienced lower-than-average enrollment numbers.
During candidate interviews, the first thing Poggas' team tells potential hires is that the nutrition department is smoke-free and drug tests employees. “It’s really severely limited the number of applicants,” she says.
High opportunity, higher wages
Marijuana legalization in Colorado has spurred development projects and investment in the state, which have had a huge ripple effect, Poggas says. “Our cost of living is through the roof, and now [Colorado] is raising our minimum wage.”
In January, Colorado will take the first step in its tiered wage hike, reaching $12 an hour in 2020.
A need for clearer policies
Coming up with policies around marijuana use by employees and others can be tricky for any business in states where recreational use is now legal.
But for some operations, the blow is softened. Federally funded institutions, such as the University of Washington in Seattle and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., abide by the federal law prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana.
Still, clearly communicating that policy to employees and potential hires is key. Colorado State University took the time to underline its policy for staff, and Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., sent a notice to workers that the school would be complying with federal laws.
When modifying the policy, Poggas says it's important to consult with your legal team and consider what risk the operation is willing to assume. “In a kitchen, you don’t want someone who is not in their right mind touching hot equipment and handling knives,” she says.