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By 2020, more people will work in the pot industry than as dental hygienists or principals

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

The marijuana industry is growing rapidly, and startup companies are rolling out products and services to automate this quasi-legal part of the economy.

More than 20 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, recreational use, or both. Cannabis companies in those states can solicit investors, open bank accounts, and hire employees on the record – essentially, all the things that other businesses do. While the federal government still bans the production, sale, and use of marijuana, certain states have tolerated or even welcomed the industry to operate within their borders.

According to a study by New Frontier, 280,000 people or more could work in the marijuana business by 2020. If this forecast proves correct, the country would have more pot workers than school principals or dental hygienists (based on estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

Due to the federal prohibition, colleges and universities do not train people for jobs in this industry (at least not officially.) Instead, would-be “potrepreneurs” are turning to largely unregulated and non-accredited training programs. These people are gambling on the federal legalization of marijuana, even though Attorney General Jeff Sessions is vehemently opposed to decriminalizing the drug.

Oaksterdam University has graduated over 30,000 people since its inception in 1995; the school even has its own grow operation for experiential learning. The Cannabis Training University offers an online course for $199. A similar operation, called THC University and Cannabis Career Institute, has also pounced on the trend.

These workers are hoping to find jobs in an industry that, like so many others, is increasingly run by machines, not people. Companies are finding ways to automate the marijuana production process, from sowing the seeds to harvesting the plant and packaging it for distribution.

One of those innovations is Bloom, a machine that can trim the harvested plant in roughly four minutes. Right now, workers do the trimming by hand, and their jobs are one of the ugliest parts of the drug trade. According to Business Insider, “In California’s marijuana-growing regions, some trimmers — called ‘trimmigrants’ — come from outside the US. Many are effectively homeless. They camp in parks and alleyways.” Bloom would eliminate those jobs, but the company notes that workers would still be needed to run the machines.

Automation doesn’t end there. A company called Meridian Merchandising has rolled out machines that can package and digitally tag marijuana. The company claims that the digital tracking can prevent illegal sales, in addition to collecting distribution data. Another company, Edyn, seems to have invented a FitBit for marijuana plants. The company makes “wi-fi connected sensors that stream real time temperature, light, humidity, and soil acidity.” The information helps optimize, regulate, and automate the entire harvest cycle.”

If these companies made a good bet, then marijuana is about to get cheaper in places where it is legal. Even with automation, the industry will require more managerial and technical workers. Someday soon, people might even tout their drug production and sale experience on their LinkedIn profiles.

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