As the cannabis industry grows, a standardized collection of knowledge and skills will need to be put in place to assure that workers are meeting industry standards. Northern New Mexico College is now offering one of the only cannabis training programs in the nation: The Cannabis Establishment Technician (CET) program.

We sat down with Associate Professor and Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences, Arts Film and Media Mateo Frazier, who is in charge of developing the program.

The Paper: Could you explain the CET program at NNMC?

Frazier: The course is for aspiring and current employees working for cannabis establishments. It was really designed for the medical cannabis industry, but in the process of launching the course, we had adult-use cannabis [bill] pass—HB 2.

It was built for those folks who want to work in the industry, or already work in industry and maintain a baseline of knowledge to work at a dispensary primarily, or potentially to work on the back end, too—although it’s not really focused on cultivation. It’s focused more on the basics. It’s not a cultivation technician course.

The purpose of this course is to help individuals understand patient access through the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act—how that came to be in New Mexico. And now the course has been adapted—we’ve made several changes as we’re adapting to these emerging rules and compliance regulations around recreational cannabis. It’s kind of a moving target right now. Right now we’re waiting on the the RLD [Regulation and Licensing Department] and the CCD [Cannabis Control Division] to release their rules. They’re doing a great job. They’re definitely under pressure. But when that comes out, we’ll adapt the curriculum.

Right now the course is 100 percent online. It’s conducted by professionals. We work with cannabis education firm SeedCrest. They had this course on their site for some time and they were offering it to folks with no credit.

So we sought, last year, to cooperate and adapt their curriculum for higher education—to get it to where we can confer credit and build it into a program. Hopefully, we can build even more programs. It’s just a start.

We’ve had at least 1,500 students inquire about the course, and in our second eight-week session, we already have about 104 students. We’re already signing up students for the fall. It’s been pretty popular.

So you do offer college credit?

Yes, it does give you college credit. It’s not required by the industry—not required by the state. The goal was to formalize cannabis education for folks who want to work in the industry—create a baseline. And then use this as a foundational course to build into more specific, specialized courses in workforce development and technical education around the cannabis industry. It isn’t the hard science or the laboratory science stuff—just the skills and knowledge you need to be a laborer at a cannabis manufacturing or production facility or dispensary.

Do students walk away with anything like a certificate?

No certificate. Just the transcripts and three credit hours.

We’re developing certificates right now, and which will likely include CET. But it will be one part of several courses that you’ll have to take for a future certificate, which we’re developing. That’s a good year from now. On a best day, we hope to offer some of those courses in the spring semester of 2022—starting in January.

Due to the intensity and rigor of the process of getting a certificate approved by our crediting agency, it may not be approved for a certificate until next summer or fall. It can take some time. We’ll see.

What kind of student would benefit the most from this program?

I think a student who has a persistent interest in getting into the industry but doesn’t really know where to start. They may have just a casual interest and say, “I’ve heard that this is going to create a lot of jobs. That’s something I would be interested in. I just don’t feel like I have enough formal knowledge about the industry to feel confident enough to apply for a job.”

We cover the New Mexico Cannabis Program as it was—the history of cannabis and the law: health insurance, affordability, accountability, access for medical patients, HIPAA, protection of people’s private medical information, safety, security and compliance—most of which is going to remain fairly similar with HB 2. But some things are changing. We talk about customer service in the cannabis industry and broad-based information about the endocannabinoid system and how it acts and other baseline knowledge, so students can advise patients more effectively. We also talk a little bit about patient and personal settings safety, infectious diseases and overuse or misuse and abuse of drugs and other substances—just so you might be able to recognize some of those issues with folks and understand it.

The course has, so far, been focused on medical cannabis. But all this stuff sort of carries over, because there’s two types of cannabis use: misuse and wellness use—even when we call it “recreational.” I think a lot of folks that have been working with this for a long time and advocates believe this is a medicinal substance, and it’s either used well or it’s misused.

So it’s really important, as we open the doors to everyone over 21, that the people that they’re interfacing with have some knowledge. It’s not just about making money. It’s about talking to folks and informing them about how to consume cannabis in a responsible way.

Knowledge is power. If everyone had a baseline of knowledge—regardless of what dispensary they ended up working in—there would be a standard understanding of this information. That’s the goal: to standardize that in some way. And it’s well on its way to doing that.

I think we’d be the first state to do that, I think.

Cannabis is a new substance to a lot of people, and as we’ve seen in other states, there are a lot of people who haven’t used this substance because of the law. Now that it’s legal, folks are going to be introduced to it for the first time. And I think it’s truly important that the people who discuss that with them have some understanding.

Northern New Mexico College is accepting applications from students for enrollment in the 8-week Cannabis Establishment Technician program for Fall 2021. For more info, visit bit.ly/3hLYhfL.

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