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By now it has become obvious to most people that there are actual jobs in cannabis in New Mexico. There are in fact at this time close to 3,000 medical cannabis professionals licensed under the New Mexico Department of Health to work for cannabis establishments. State wide, industry sectors in cannabis retail, manufacturing, couriering, and indoor farming are experiencing a growth spurt just as local legislators are being called back to figure out how to agree on Legalization per Governor Michelle Lujan’s Special Session on March 30th. This is great news for those individuals who wish to get into the cannabis industry or who wish to advance their careers.
Currently, at SeedCrest.io, a local talent acquisition and compliance training software company, we can confirm that our 5 STAR Alumni Talent Pool, consisting of over 10,000 cannabis students, are eager to work in the field in various capacities, mostly helping patients to understand the medicine and ensuring quality product. 35% of our students are certified in HIPAA and Core Compliance Training, which is the program we created in alignment with NM Department of Health’s licensing requirements to work for cannabis establishments.
Although our business model supports a 5 STAR training standard for all cannabis employees, at this time in New Mexico the state has no support for the average New Mexican who wishes to become certified to work in cannabis.
Why the big concern you ask? The current employee licensing regulations are written in such a way that the workforce does not have the right to own their own license to work in cannabis. They cannot at this time self license and there are no approved courses nor education coming from the New Mexico Department of Health for workforce or patients. Nor does Workforce Solutions of NM have involvement. Higher Education has also stalled due to federal funding and would need state carve outs and support to help with this gap.
The current employee licensing process also seems to cost the licensed cannabis businesses money every time they have a turnover in staff and every time they have to hire and license new employees, as well as when they have to renew their business license. So basically the state takes in these astronomical fees for the businesses with no support or reinvestment into their workforce. We are hoping that legislators see this glaring gap and will work on resolving it.
Let us explain. In order to gain employment in the medical cannabis industry in the state of New Mexico, all employees who work for dispensaries, manufacturers, couriers, and laboratories become licensed after obtaining employment from a cannabis establishment and filling out the Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) License Identification Card Request Form. The licensing process is completed by the cannabis establishments with self-education, in topics like HIPAA, State Cannabis Policy, Ethics and overall Safety and then overseen by the NM Department of Health. Every year, in-house training courses should be taken to renew business and employee licenses. This would be like the local Walgreens pharmacy being tasked with educating their pharmacists and pharmacy techs and in turn they are in charge of dispensing medicine and educating the patients on how to take it. Self education in cannabis has proven to be a very risky model with casualties in our state and one that shows the state’s difficulties in providing safety oversight to cannabis employers and employees.
Our whole business model at SeedCrest has been created to help New Mexicans gain standard industry compliance (safety) training and to get themselves jobs. We have also provided the state’s only talent pool since 2017. We ended up specializing in licensing and education with the goal in mind to foster a bridge to jobs that would eventually assist the state to progressing licensing and certification systems.
If we are able to get legislators to take this seriously and to support the workforce with equitable educational and licensing opportunities we believe that other states will study us in an effort to progress their cannabis workforce policy. At this time most medical cannabis approved states seem to be faced with a similar chance to improve systems. Some call this capacity building and it seems that we may have put the cart before the horse. Luckily it isn’t too late to address it.
So to wrap things up, there is a great need for New Mexico’s legislators to address the employee licensing and educational systems when they discuss legalization in this upcoming special session. Without the proper support and funding, the infrastructure for 11,000 jobs that we are hoping to create for our state simply is not in place at this time. In order to foster a healthy industry, we recommend treating medical cannabis and adult use employee licensing like one and the same with a third party approved certificate and licensing program. This is no different than any highly regulated industry, so we must treat it as such.
SeedCrest would like to see employees licensed more like pharmacy technicians rather than alcohol servers. Consider that when Adult Use retail stores open, that all 3,000 employees in the medical cannabis marketplace are highly likely to work with patients and non-patient consumers under the same retail cannabis store and will have to face both types of consumers at some point, and with the same product mind you. We must empower and give the medical cannabis workforce support first and foremost around their training and licensing. This will give us a start in educated talent, all with the same tools and state approved education, all speaking the same language. To preserve the medical cannabis program and retain patients this will be so important.
We also believe in equity in this industry and that comes with the state of New Mexico giving all cannabis professionals the right to start from an even playing field and with the same financial and educational resources that allow them to work with cannabis. We want the workforce to have access to education and financial aid, their risk to be lowered, licensing mechanisms that are standardized and obtainable, and employee rights in place when our state adds on the Adult Use marketplace.
We are hopeful that with the right support around this one issue during the special session that legislators will be able to follow through on their promises of 11,000 more cannabis jobs, preserving the medical program, providing public safety, and quality assurance. We must be careful not to forget the working and consuming class. We cannot overpromise and underdeliver. That sounds too risky. Especially when thousands of people will be lined up to work and partake in cannabis when we open the flood gates.
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*Editor’s Note: material referenced in this commentary can be found in the documents below submitted by the author.