Three years ago, assistant professor Shad Ewart launched a course on the emerging business of medical marijuana at Anne Arundel Community College.
The course was offered in response to student demand, he said. Now Ewart sees another demand, this time from the industry — a demand for skilled entry-level workers to help grow, process and sell cannabis.
“They absolutely want qualified workers to work for them,” Ewart said.
To meet that demand, Ewart is proposing a credit-bearing certificate program at the college to train students for their first jobs in the medical cannabis industry.
Tony Toskov, founder of the soon-to-open dispensary Green Point Wellness in Linthicum, Md., said that there is a need for such a program. If he had a stack of five résumés, he said, he would call the person with the certificate first because it would show that they are seriously interested in the industry. He thinks other employers would probably feel the same way.
“There’s always a need for people to be educated in a new industry, whether it’s engineering, working at a restaurant and especially this industry. It’s new to Maryland,” he said.
Ewart has many hoops to jump through before such a program becomes reality. So far, he has secured approval from the dean of the School of Business and Law to form a focus group in the next four to six weeks. He will figure out exactly what the employers are looking for, he said, and from there will build a program that meets those needs.
“I’m going to turn to them and say, ‘You tell me what you want out of a graduate, and I will deliver that graduate to you,’ ” he said.
As for the program’s curriculum, Ewart said that he thinks he can rely on many current offerings. Once he learns from the focus group what knowledge and skills the workers will need, he can figure out which existing classes match up.
“I think, for the growers, they’re probably going to want somebody with a background in horticulture or botany. Well, we already have those courses,” he said.
In Maryland, the people selling medical cannabis need to be aware of addiction issues, Ewart said. The college already offers classes on that subject. He is assuming that chemistry will be important for the people processing cannabis to make concentrates. That’s another course offering that the school already has.
“And if we have to develop new ones, we’ll develop those as well for the program,” he said.
To Ewart, who also chairs the college’s business-management department, one of the most important aspects of the potential program is that it would be credit-bearing. That means he needs to gain approval at the departmental level, then from the school’s educational planning and curriculum committee, then the body of the whole, then the college’s board of trustees, and finally the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
“There are some fine noncredit programs out there, but they are not going to have to meet those standards that we have to meet here at Anne Arundel,” he said.
The college’s vice president of learning, Mike Gavin, commended Ewart’s initiative.
“Our faculty are always looking for new opportunities to provide our students with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce, and Professor Ewart’s efforts here are another great example of that,” Gavin said in a statement.
Ewart is aware of the resistance some people have to the idea of a marijuana-business class, let alone an entire program. The Capital newspaper published a letter to the editor after he first launched his course that said: “What better way to snow the public than to keep them stoned on drugs?”
Ewart has the letter posted on the door to his office, next to an AACC sticker and a sheet of paper with the title “Medical Cannabis in Maryland: Learn about the GREEN RUSH.”
“There is always resistance. This is a plant and a medicine that has been conflated because of the recreational use,” he said.
In his class, they don’t use words like “weed” or “pot,” he said. He tells the students that the clothing they wear and their haircuts matter when they’re representing the industry.
“Is that fair? Probably not,” he said. “But that’s what we’re dealing with in this industry, and I think that’s going to be a challenge for a long time to come.”
The easy customers will be people who are already self-medicating with cannabis purchased illegally, he said. The difficult sell will be someone who grew up in the era of “just say no.”
“He has to be convinced that this is a viable option for him. Not that it’s the be-all, end-all drug, but simply that doctors should have more options and patients should have more choices,” Ewart said.