Ohio Begins Training Its Medical Marijuana Workforce

Photo Credit: Rick Senften

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

Glen Miller sits in the second row of his Horticulture 101 class, listening as his professor gives a lecture on plant biology. At 61, Miller 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 says.

Cannabis as a career

Miller is enrolled at the Cleveland School of Cannabis. Located on two floors of a multi-story office building in Independence, the for-profit school has been open for just over a year and its founder says it has one purpose.

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

Briggs is a Cleveland Heights native who spent several years working in California’s marijuana industry. He hopes to help head off in Ohio 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 says.

With three certificate programs, in horticulture, business and medical applications — and an executive program that combines all three — Briggs says 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 state’s role

The school is not nationally accredited, but it did receive a license from the Ohio Board of Career Colleges and Schools in November. John Ware is the agency’s executive director.

“We regulate private post-secondary schools and colleges that offer training designed to lead to employment,” he says.

Ware says 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 says, 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 in the state of Ohio. We determined that we were going to go ahead and license because the alternative is that there would be no oversight,” Ware says.

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

Internships and outreach

A year in, the Cleveland School of Cannabis has about 125 people enrolled. Students aren’t necessarily getting hands-on training because the school can’t grow or process marijuana on site. But founder Briggs says 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, professor Douglas Berman offers a marijuana law, policy and reform seminar.

The changing law

“The first time was in fall 2013 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 says.

Berman says 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 says, 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 says.

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.