Students at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) interested in entering the New Jersey cannabis industry after graduation can now receive industry training and education while in school.
Back by popular demand, MCCC announced on March 22, it would offer a second medical cannabis training course in May.
Sarah Trent, CEO of Valley Wellness, a medical cannabis dispensary, designed the course to educate, train and prepare individuals for entry-level positions in the cannabis industry.
"Working in the cannabis industry isn't just about knowing how to work in a grow or knowing how to be patient-facing in a dispensary," Trent said. "Really, the best staff members, even for entry-level positions, have a well-rounded education, and so I developed a class that is made to make that well-rounded employee."
The course was initially only offered at Raritan Valley Community College (RCVV) in New Jersey but recently expanded to MCCC as enrollment and demand began to increase, Trent said.
"I ran the program three times in 2020 with about 50 students each, and after the ballot initiative passed, we saw numbers really increase," Trent said. "So, we just started running the class at Mercer and ran the first class starting Jan. 25, 2021, where we had roughly 70 people enrolled in that class. And right now, I'm currently running a March class at Raritan Valley, and we have over 80 students."
As New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an adult-use cannabis legalization bill last month, following voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment last fall, there has become a need for experienced individuals in the field.
"There are so many open jobs because all of the existing operators are ramping up production," Trent said. "Because one of the requirements under the new law says the existing operators cannot start selling to the adult-use market until they can certify to the newly formed commission that they have enough product to meet patient demand first. So, I don't know of a single operator in New Jersey who is not hiring right now for multiple positions."
Trent said she wanted to find a way to help employees and employers. The course creates an opportunity to make cannabis training and education more accessible to individuals to fulfill that need.
Since the course started, Trent has offered free tuition to the first five veterans who sign up for the program; however, she wanted to find a way to expand that concept to low-income individuals who need financial assistance in the state, she said.
"We get a lot of requests like, 'Hey, do we have to pay this all up front?' or 'Do you know, where can I find some scholarship assistance?'," Trent said.
As Trent began to look for sponsors to help create scholarships, she was introduced to the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association (NJCTA), with whom she has partnered with to provide six scholarships for the May training course at MCCC.
Shaya Brodchandel, chair of NJCTA and CEO of Harmony Dispensary, a fully vertical alternative treatment center, said the partnership was a 'no-brainer,' as he believes education is essential in the cannabis industry, but accessibility to the instruction is lacking, he said
Suppose an individual wants to become a doctor, lawyer, accountant or wants to study one of the various other trades. In that case, he or she has easier access to that education as a university or school likely teaches it. Still, in the cannabis industry, there isn't much precedent where people can go and get a proper education, he said.
"For us, [the partnership] was a natural fit from the education standpoint," Brodchandel said. "We are also going to provide scholarships and interviews immediately after. So, within a month, the [students] will have interviews with local retail and cultivation companies. As these [jobs] become available, we will be reaching out to participants and letting them know there are job opportunities. So, it's really connecting education with the industry and putting best practices in motion as best as we can."
Some of the roles that the course can prepare individuals for is a variety of entry-level cultivation positions, as well as patient-facing and dispensary staff positions such as a patient care agent or a wellness associate, where individuals can help patients, fill orders, work in the packaging department and more, Trent said.
Additionally, Trent is working toward making the class applicable to entry-level jobs in a manufacturing lab, as some of those positions do not require a college degree.
The next medical cannabis training course at MCCC will begin on May 3.
The course takes around 15 hours to complete and costs $500 to enroll. It is taught in five modules over five consecutive Monday nights on Zoom from 6-9 p.m., Trent said.
"Module one is the basics of cannabis laws. Module two is the basics of cultivation, harvesting and manufactured products, where students learn what manufactured products are in New Jersey right now and how they are made. Module three is the endocannabinoid system and testing. Module four is dispensary-specific training, compliance, tracking dosing administration, and module five is industry speakers,” Trent said.
Scholarship applications for the May 3 course are now open until April 12. Students must reside in specific New Jersey zip codes, demonstrate a financial need and be 21 years or older to apply.
"I think that this is a great opportunity for the colleges and universities to help connect education with the industry," Brodchandel said. "This is the first in New Jersey of hopefully many that we'll be seeing happening for connecting hires. I want to continue participating in these programs, and I hope to see this growth throughout the coming months. I think the timing is now, and the opportunity is tremendous for us to make a positive impact. Now is our time to execute and to deliver on all that we've been working on. So just proud to be a part of this.”