Jessica McKeil   |   May 29, 2020

Professional Cannabis Training: A Personal Experience

Despite my initial reservations and skepticism, I walked away with a new perspective.
Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She personally found relief through cannabis for the treatment of her panic and anxiety disorder. She is lucky…

With the rise of legal cannabis markets, there has been a substantial related impact on the jobs market. In 2019, Leafly confirmed, “Legal cannabis is currently the greatest job-creation machine in America” in a report detailing nearly 300,000 full-time jobs in the sector.

The industry’s demand for experienced professionals has long since exhausted the pool of people who had direct experience working with the plant pre-legalization. The sector now is pulling people from anywhere they can — from tech, pharmaceutical, investment, and any other industry that has top talent open to working in the green rush. 

An Urgent Need for Professional Cannabis Training Across the Sector

The transition from a more conventional industry into cannabis isn’t always a smooth one. As the markets have demonstrated, it can often feel like working in the Wild West. Even for those with extensive personal experience with the plant, working with it in a highly regulated and evolving environment—is an entirely new ball game.

The cannabis sector operates with a new language, regulatory conditions, and an ever-changing scientific approach. Cannabis is drastically different than most, if not all, other areas. One only has to look at California’s recent regulatory evolutions to see just how dramatically the workplace can change from one day to the next.

But despite this constant state of change, the sector stills need to fill many of the same positions as other businesses (think finance, logistics, and technicians). With cannabis (and cannabis science) being so new, it’s challenging to find people with a rock-solid understanding of the plant. Broad skills may transfer from industry to industry, but hands-on experience matters.

Cannabis Sommelier Training, A Personal Experience

With the need to introduce an entirely new demographic to the specifics of the plant and the industry as a whole, a plethora of cannabis training programs have popped up in recent years. These programs range from accredited diploma options to quick money-making schemes selling PowerPoint presentations online.

As a freelance cannabis writer, many of these educational opportunities have piqued my interest. But, after I explore the course content, I determine it’s not worth the time or the investment. For many people like myself, already working in the sector, we no longer need the basics. We need detailed, hands-on, and expertly led classes catering to our specific careers.

Based solely on the recommendation of an acquaintance working for a leading Canadian LP, I signed up for the Cannabis Sommelier Level 1 Course through Cannareps. Admittedly, I was skeptical. I assumed this one-day course would confirm what I already knew and that I would ‘perhaps make some local connections. Yet, within only a few minutes, this class highlighted how vital professional training is for the cannabis industry, across all positions.

Based on introductions alone, it became immediately apparent just how powerful a hands-on, science-based training program is for all areas of the industry, and all positions. Attendees ranged from former growers-turned-sales reps to owners of a newly licensed retailer, from accountants to a gourmet chef working in a new American market. Experience and cannabis knowledge across the classroom was extremely varied.

Experienced grower and researcher, Adolfo Gonzalez, taught an eight-hour class that covered cultural history, ancestry, and anatomy in a way I had not known before.

Coming away from the course, I have a better understanding of lineage, taxonomy, and the impact of cultivation techniques on the final product. Most valuably, in my opinion, I learned the basics of grading and chemovar identification by practicing on the flower.

While my newfound skills need practice, I am now capable of distinguishing an Afghani from a Kush lineage based on appearance and terpene profile. Even for someone who writes about cannabis every day, the course provided an unprecedented level of understanding I could never have developed on my own.

A Convert to the Benefit of Cannabis Training for Professionals

I’m a convert, and not just to the Cannareps brand, but to the value of professional training in the cannabis industry. True, not all education is created equal; arguably, a lab worker, a marketer, or a sales rep with real-world experience in cannabis stands head and shoulders above the rest. The most direct experience by employees elevates the business as a whole. In my opinion, it’s not just the budtenders and the cultivators who need to understand cannabis—it’s the entire company.

While Cannareps courses, including Cannabis Sommelier Level I and Level II, are only available only in major Canadian cities (Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto), elsewhere, other organizations are providing similar educational content, such as the Trichome Institute.

From the standpoint of building strong company values and growing a passionate, knowledgeable team, I would strongly argue for a short, intensive, and hands-on class for all positions. That means for the accounting department, warehouse staff, and even upper management.

More specialized positions could benefit from advanced professional education, suitable to their specific roles and responsibilities. Thankfully, over the last five years, several reputable colleges and universities across the continent now offer full diploma programs.

As only one Canadian example among many, Mont-Royal University in Alberta created the Cannabis Training Program within The Faculty of Continuing Education and Extension. Online courses include Plant Production and Facility Management, Cannabis Quality Assurance Technician, and Cannabis Cultivation Technician. While these courses are not cheap, they come from an accredited and established Canadian university.

In the US, there are similar opportunities across the country, from the likes of Colorado State University-Pueblo, which has a 22-credit Cannabis Studies minor, to California’s Oaksterdam University, offering two certificate programs: the horticulture semester and the business semester.

Building an Experienced Team

As the cannabis sector continues to grow, it continues to poach the best talent from outside the industry. As cannabis companies grow their teams, keeping the focus on the plant will become increasingly important. If the majority of your team has little to no experience in cannabis, it’s easy to envision a future where the passion is lost. With the growing number of reputable cannabis educational opportunities, it’s possible to build that missing experience and foster a passion amongst even cannabis newcomers.

 

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