From a home office in Annapolis, Jacquie Cohen Roth has come up with a multipart plan: Train people who have had a tough time finding a job to work in the cannabis industry, including those with prior cannabis-related arrests.

Through her company, CannabizMD, she also plans train those who grow, process, test or sell cannabis, as required by Maryland law. Another focus is boosting diversity in the cannabis industry through networking and other means.

This is how Roth is using the master’s degree she earned from the medical cannabis science and therapeutics program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s School of Pharmacy.

“Having that M.S. after my name is very necessary to be regarded as an expert,” said Roth. “I’m going 100% in, so I need to understand the clinical, as well as the policy and other aspects.

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“I think there will be more and more training like this,” she said about the university program.

Indeed, cannabis education is becoming more common for people who want it, and training is becoming more available for people who are required to get it, all of which educators and observers say will professionalize the burgeoning industry.

Maryland legalized recreational marijuana this year, allowing any adult to buy, grow and use small amounts of the drug, and joining several other states that have done so. It also expanded training requirements for people producing, handling and selling cannabis in the state. While the drug remains federally banned and research into uses and effects continues to lag behind demand, educators have made the decision to teach what they do know.

The University of Maryland was first among traditional U.S. academic institutions offering a graduate degree related to cannabis, and Roth was in the program’s first class in 2019, created after the state legalized medical marijuana in 2014.

Many more universities and colleges have begun offering classes and degrees in areas that range from the medical to the legal to the entrepreneurial.

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Shad Ewart has taught a business class related to cannabis for years at Anne Arundel Community College and is adding classes at Carroll Community College on a variety of topics as part of its workforce training program. Classes offer the basics for dispensary agents, entrepreneurship, cannabis plant growth, state medical cannabis regulations and effects on the human body.

In Anne Arundel, the class is “as popular as ever,” Ewart said, adding that students skew older than those in his other business courses and have greater racial diversity.

“The class has evolved over the years to reflect the dual need for those seeking a job/career and those seeking to start a business,” he said in an email. “I think that home growing could really take off, and there will be opportunities for new hydroponic shops plus for folks offering growing consulting services.”

Ewart may seek to become an authorized state trainer, helping Maryland cannabis industry workers fulfill a legal requirement. Close to 8,100 people will need to show they’ve completed the state-mandated training by next July, said Tia Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Cannabis Administration. The state is currently soliciting applications from those who want to qualify to conduct the training.

“Programs are required to maintain records on who has been trained and report them to MCA upon request,” Lewis said.

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Debbie Churgai, executive director for Americans For Safe Access, which advocates for therapeutic cannabis use and research, said the fastest-growing area for education is basic workforce training, rather than the more elaborate degree program offered at the University of Maryland.

The group offers its own state-specific and general workforce training focused on safety and compliance with industry standards and rules.

“Most other programs around the country, as far as I know, are focused on professional skill development for working in the cannabis industry, but not so much on cannabis as a medicine,” she said. “I am 100% for any program that helps to professionalize the industry, but especially programs that focus on cannabis as a medicine.”

Leah Sera, program director for the University of Maryland master’s degree program, said officials decided to offer classes because “there was a knowledge gap.”

She said officials weren’t entirely sure who the students would be, how much demand there would be or what exactly students would do with the degree. That’s in contrast to the typical pharmacy student who has one path, becoming a pharmacist.

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There are hundreds of cannabis program graduates and just under 100 enrolled now in the master’s program and a certificate program recently added. The program has evolved to recognize recreational cannabis in addition to medical marijuana.

“We wanted to open it up to many different kinds of professionals,” she said. “Some are clinicians; some want to go into policy or law or business. But this isn’t taught in business school.”

Surveys of students at the pharmacy school suggest some want to produce or sell. Many want to start related businesses. Doctors want information so they can recommend cannabis to patients or do research. And some students want a job in government setting policy.

Roth, who is now an adjunct professor in the program, believes it and her experience make her well suited for the educator role she has taken on with CannabizMD.

“There’s so much you can do in this industry,” she said, “if you have training.”

meredith@thebaltimorebanner.com

Meredith Cohn is a health and medicine reporter for The Baltimore Banner, covering the latest research, public health developments and other news. She has been covering the beat in Baltimore for more than two decades. 

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