Cannabis Education: Preparing A Workforce For A New Industry

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Glen Miller sits in the second row of his Horticulture 101 class, listening as his professor gives a lecture on plant biology. At age 61, Miller recently took a buyout from his former employer—a telecommunications company—and decided instead of retiring, he’d enroll in a training program for a second career. A career in cannabis.

“I am interested in the horticultural side of it. So, I’d be interested in possibly getting a job at a grow house or a greenhouse, kinda be behind the scenes,” Miller said.

In September, Ohio will join 28 other states with comprehensive medical marijuana programs and while the program still faces some challenges, a group of educators in the state is working to make sure a trained workforce isn’t one of them.

The Cleveland School of Cannabis is located on two floors of a multi-story office building in Independence. Miller and about 125 others attend the for-profit school that has been open for just over a year.

“We’re a career school and we’re in the business of getting people jobs,” the school’s founder Austin Briggs said.

Briggs is a Cleveland Heights native who spent several years working and investing in California’s marijuana industry. In his home state, he hopes to help head off one of the problems he experienced in the industry on the west coast: the need for trained workers.

“Employers need a place that they can reach out to, that’s going to be able to certify or co-sign for students to say this person knows what they say they know,” he said.

With three certificate programs, in horticulture, business and medical applications-- and an executive program that combines all three-- Briggs said the Cleveland School of Cannabis is taking the basic plant biology and management techniques taught at institutions across the country and applying them to the marijuana industry, preparing growers, dispensary owners and everyone in between.

The school is not nationally accredited, but it did receive a license from the Ohio Board of Career Colleges and Schools in November.

The board regulates private post-secondary schools and colleges that offer training meant to lead to employment, about 200 statewide that include a wide variety of programs.

The Board’s Executive Director John Ware said initially, there was some confusion at the state level as to who would oversee the school. Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Board didn’t plan to regulate workforce training, so Ware’s board stepped in.

They compared the Cleveland school’s curriculum to others in California and Colorado. They looked at workforce estimates—some say 630,000 jobs will be created in the industry nationwide by 2025.

Then, Ware said, they discussed the legal implications of licensing a school that prepares workers to grow and sell something the federal government says is illegal, but ultimately, the board signed off.

“Because it’s been essentially legalized, medical marijuana in the state of Ohio, and they are preparing people for what appears to be a legitimate career, we determined that we were going to go ahead and license because the alternative is that there would be no oversight,” Ware said.

And no oversight, he added, means there’s no one to look out for the students.

A year in, enrollment has continued to increase at the Cleveland School for Cannabis, but students aren’t necessarily getting hands-on training. The school can’t legally grow or process marijuana on site, but its founder Austin Briggs said he’s starting to work with Ohio growers to expand internship opportunities for students.

Preparing a workforce for the medical marijuana industry hasn’t been limited, though, to those wanting a hands-on career in the field. At the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, Prof. Douglas Berman offers a Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform Seminar.

“The first time was in fall 2013,” he said, “and so it was a really exciting moment when no state had actually put forward their actual regulations for a fully legalized marijuana industry.”

Berman said the course is constantly evolving because of the country’s changing marijuana laws.

In just a few years, some of his former students have found major success in the field, Berman said, because they’re learning the law as it’s being created.

“It reinforces my sense that there are ways for them to be achieving and successful and impactful in this area of law much quicker than they probably could in any other,” he said.

His seminar offers lessons students can put to use right away, much like students at the Cleveland School of Cannabis. Both are preparing a workforce for an industry that’s just beginning to bud in Ohio.

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