Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

Did you ever think you would someday be able to study how to sell weed in college? The time has come. Northern New Mexico College, in collaboration with SeedCrest, a state-based cannabis education provider, has added the cannabis industry to its course offerings this spring. The program is the first of its kind in the state. The recent legalization of cannabis makes this course offering even more significant. Beyond the 2,500 employees currently needed for medical cannabis staffing, within the next year or two that number could move to 17,000 jobs in the industry.

“The partnership and the class at Northern are new, and it’s exciting because it’s groundbreaking. This is the beginning of many projects where we license curricula to colleges from our software system,“ SeedCrest founder Shanon Jaramillo told The Paper. “We are on track with Northern for the next three years, and it’s so exciting. We are extremely excited cannabis is legalized. I don’t think that any of us knew it was going to explode like this overnight with legalization. We can keep pace with it at Northern and then take it to other schools in 2022.”

The eight-week Cannabis Establishment Technician online class focuses on preparing students to be successful in the cannabis industry. The course is designed for aspiring and current employees of cannabis establishments who need to maintain a body of knowledge to work and maintain employment in a dispensary, in growing and manufacturing, in a testing facility and/or as a courier in the cannabis industry. Upon completion of the class, students will earn elective credits and a HIPAA certificate, which is needed to work with medical patients.

One of SeedCrest’s teachers is an individual who was in the cannabis lab that was burned by one of the first processing facility explosions in the state, Jaramillo told The Paper. “I’m coming back home to you,” he said to her, “and I want to teach, and I want to make sure that all of those 11,000-plus jobs have access to lab safety, because I know that the state doesn’t have that in place, and that OSHA is not involved yet.”

The marijuana industry is expected to have a big impact on the state’s economy, and education for the current and upcoming workforce is desperately needed. The course offers a broad overview of the industry from safety and security compliance to regulatory guidance, health issues and combating addiction. Students will understand patient access through the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act and illustrate a mastery of patient care/customer service to maintain the integrity of the Medical Cannabis Program. The curriculum includes online instruction by industry professionals/leaders, access to communicating with trainers and a general assessment. Students will earn college credit while also meeting the yearly training requirements to work at or own a business in the Medical Cannabis & Adult Use field.

Jaramillo wants to support minority populations through her software program and will be expanding the program into the Spanish language. “Over time the course has been a way of empowering them, and with the processes we put together, you see this transformation in their confidence level. Many have never even talked about cannabis out loud in a professional setting. They’ve been hiding, and you’ll hear them say. ‘Oh my gosh. I’m talking about it!’,“ Jaramillo explained.

Colleges and universities throughout the state could ultimately develop programs that address both the educational and agricultural aspects of the cannabis industry. The technician course could also evolve into an associate’s degree program or more. Existing employees at medical marijuana dispensaries can benefit from the online course and develop a deeper understanding of products, customer service and local and state laws. SeedCrest software also supports the virtual classroom, record keeping and recruitment solutions for talent.

“We have a lot of work to do here in New Mexico, and we’re not too far behind the states that have put together these programs. I’ve been speaking with Economic Development, and I have meetings coming up with the Department of Health and Licensing, so that I can start to have these candid conversations and just offer solutions. I’m hopeful that we can continue to put together some of the roadmap and educational pieces with the colleges—as we can see already in our preliminary data that horticulture, entrepreneurship and manufacturing are worth doing,” says Jaramillo.

The Cannabis Establishment Technician Course (CET128) starts on June 7, with enrollment opening April 12, 2021. Contact SeedCrest Career Services (info@seedcrest.io) or Frank Orona, director of admissions at NNMC (forona@nnmc.edu) for info. The college and SeedCrest officials are working with the state of New Mexico to ensure equity and financial aid is available for students. Due to federal scheduling of marijuana, federal student aid is not available until policy catches up to the marketplace. The online admissions and enrollment process takes between two and four weeks. Students are encouraged to sign up at least four weeks prior to the start of class.

“There are a lot of layers. The curriculum on my software is like a virtual textbook, and we consider ourselves to be the workforce solution for the entire cannabis industry and the community,” Jaramillo said. “I’m actually having to seek outside help right now, because we were told that the state would support this effort. And I’m having to keep pace with the excitement we’ve now caused ourselves. We need to be able to move it to CNM or wherever I really want by 2022, because any of these colleges can assign their own faculty to it. We need funding and are considering a crowdfunding effort as well. I am looking for the right group of investors to get involved.

“We are breaking the stigma of cannabis through education by offering learning and data management. We offer tools to trailblazing professionals, college, and government who align with higher outcomes for the community.”

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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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