Cannabis is a complex business. Not surprisingly, there’s a burgeoning training industry to help people interested in participating in the sector, with courses offered by private businesses – and even by some universities.
“I brought the cannabis program to Mount Royal University,” says Brad Mahon, Dean of Continuing Education at Mount Royal University (MRU) in Calgary. “Alberta has been struggling economically for some time now, and there’s a large workforce in the province looking for opportunities in new sectors.”
MRU began its program three years in partnership with a Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia. Last year, the MRU went solo with its Cannabis Education Program – a set of online courses that examines various aspects of cannabis production in Canada. The curriculum has a strong focus on understanding and complying with the Cannabis Act.
“Our advisory committee has made all the difference,” says Mahon. “We’re learning from people who are out there working in the industry, including former students.”
The courses offered at MRU are intended for those interested in working with licensed production facilities, as well as for suppliers to the cannabis industry, license applicants, and even investors.
“We have quite a diverse group of students,” says Mahon. “Some are studying because they really want to participate in the industry, but others are hobbyists, or just want to grow a better plant.”
Help for the retail sector
One area of growth in cannabis education is within the retail sector. At present, regulations tend to focus on public safety, with little emphasis on product knowledge – much as with provincial programs, such as Ontario’s Smart Serve, which certifies individuals to sell alcohol.
“Most education programs are focussed on what you can and cannot do, there really isn’t much training out there to equip staff with product knowledge,” says Zane Yassein, Co-Founder, Cannabis Training Canada (CTC) in Vancouver. “However, with our training, we go deeper to include product knowledge. We can customize our modules to address the needs of stores or provinces, including with their own branding. Our customers can then have access to the back end of the portal, to track their employees’ progress.”
When CTC began, the idea was to focus more on serving the provinces and territories. While CTC still serves this market, the real growth is in the direct retail sector. To ensure the broadest and most flexible reach, CTC, which has been in operation since 2015, has made a strong commitment to its online platform.
“We have a software guy on our team, and we built our platform from scratch,” says Yassein. “Our training is easy to update. In effect, we are more of a tech company than a cannabis company – we don’t touch any product.”
The CTC suite of courses for retail certification includes the history of cannabis, cannabis plant anatomy, cannabis and the human body, product knowledge, legal considerations, customer interaction, and social responsibility.
“The future of training will be dependent on how the industry in Canada matures,” says Yassein. “There are so many new products, things haven’t plateaued. It’s why we’re offering an in-depth product knowledge course, because the products are changing so fast.”
The cannabis sommelier
“We are all about product appreciation,” says Adolfo Gonzalez of CannaReps Consulting in Vancouver, which offers three courses: cannabis sommelier, living soil at home, and dispensary management. “We don’t pitch novel theories. We only teach bona fide cannabis culture and science.”
This may sound like common sense, but sadly there are self-appointed educators out there who make wild claims about cannabis’s healing properties, as well as the salutary role played by different constituents of the plant, such as terpenes.
“So many people and companies say, ‘I know how these terpenes will make you feel’ – but that’s not true,” says Gonzalez, who has a 20-year history as an R&D specialist and activist within the industry, having worked directly with retailers, producers, and regulators. “Terpenes by themselves don’t dictate the aromas and effect of the full biochemical spectrum.”
Gonzalez says that thiols, esters, and the amount of chlorophyl all play a role in the consumer experience, but that the scientific data is limited in terms of how these factors produce specific effects. The lack of clarity reduces the ability of producers and retailers to drive assumptions and to make claims about their products.
This should be true of educators, too, but it isn’t always.
“You look at some theories being taught around consumer guidance and product appreciation, and they have no scientific basis,” says Gonzalez, who was in the industry for 16 years before becoming an educator. “For example, there is no concrete evidence that proves that a human nose can determine how a specific plant will make another person feel based on smell or morphology.”
The issue is that, despite the role played by reputable institutions like Mount Royal University and committed educators like Yassein at CTC and Gonzalez of CannaReps, the bulk of “educating” is happening online. The result is that a lot of bogus claims go unchecked.
“People who have never grown a plant become social media influencers or start a cannabis education company because it seems like a good business, and this is who people listen to,” says Gonzalez. “This is where we’re at today. There’s no regulation or oversight. Few people are teaching with actual industry experience, and that’s a big problem in cannabis education.”