Finding someone well-trained in the intricacies of cannabis can be hard.
There is no shortage of people who are interested in weed. But interest doesn’t always translate into skill. Few stoners possess the technical understanding and training needed to provide real medical care with cannabis. The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy is looking to change that by offering certified medical training.
In a growing trend, Baltimore joins a short list of universities and colleges, including the University of Vermont College of Medicine providing cannabis related coursework. These educators seek to capitalize on the growing marijuana industry and introduce educational standards to the industry. Yet even in the midst of assembling coursework, the science and legal standing of pot are evolving.
There is a big push to reform cannabis education.
“We wanted to be there as a resource,” said Magaly Rodriguez de Bittner to the Baltimore Sun. As a pharmacy professor and the executive director of the school’s Center for Innovative Pharmacy Solutions, Magalay is serious about educating cannabis professionals. Her department got the ball rolling and began signing up potential workers for training June 29.
Magalay doesn’t endorse marijuana use but feels that better educated workers are important. “If you’re going to be dispensing,” she said, “let’s make sure your staff in trained in best practices to do it safely and effectively.” The school offers all the coursework online so people already employed full-time in the industry can still participate.
The University of Maryland is also partnering with advocacy groups like Americans for Safe Access to provide the highest quality training. In a highly collaborative effort, advocacy groups are developing the curriculum while the school vets and adjusts it. The certification is part of Marylands new medical marijuana law.
Education is not the same as endorsement.
The school maintains that training doesn’t mean an endorsement of using marijuana. The University of Maryland wants to preserve its standing as a well-regarded institution since its founding in 1841. The university heads also reiterated that medical marijuana is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Maryland passed its medical marijuana legislation in 2014 but still doesn’t have any working dispensaries. But that didn’t stop them from building the infrastructure needed to support it once developed. The school had an online platform to offer the training and a mission to provide education to health care providers. So even if the science and government regulation has yet to catch up with demand, Magalay is moving forward.
But Maryland isn’t operating in a vacuum.
There are only a handful of universities that support research into medical marijuana. This is partially due to cannabis being a federally restricted, schedule 1 classification substance. The classification (the same as heroin and LSD) prevents medical research in many ways. And has caused several large health systems to ask doctors not to recommend marijuana.
Global names in the fight against cancer like Johns Hopkins still can’t support treatment with cannabis. Even state healthcare providers like LifeBridge Health and Medstar Health ask their doctors to avoid cannabis. They have policies like this because of the political and more importantly, financial repercussions of supporting marijuana.
While Maryland and 28 other states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, it is federally illegal. The Justice Department has a long history of seizing assets, revoking funding and retaliating against supporters of marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues a long tradition of prosecutors who feel “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” And he is willing to do whatever he feels is necessary to keep it illegal.
Maryland is still determined to offer certification.
Doctors are not obligated to get specific training before prescribing cannabis. Growers, processors, dispensaries and laboratories are required to be ‘certified’ according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission executive director Patrick Jameson. Certifications and subsequent inspections intent to focus on safety, security and record keeping.
Businesses must ensure relevant training to a person’s position and different agents have different requirements. A field-hand working in the nursery will need different training and certification than a budtender. According to Jameson, dispensary workers have even more requirements than other marijuana workers listed in the law.
There are a number of certification services available around the state. Most struggle to stand out as more credible than the others. Americans for Safe Access hope the University of Maryland name adds legitimacy to the courses they offer. Having the support of the state university acts like a funnel which perpetually introduces students to the non-profits.
Partnering is a win-win.
Shad Ewart is a professor at Anne Arundel Community College. He teaches a course about the marijuana industry that is credited but isn’t part of the certification yet. He pointed out that both the schools and the non-profits benefit.
Developing a curriculum can take months or even years. University officials simply reviewed the content submitted by the non-profits and made it conform to educational norms. It is a rare example of real-world job skills in the classroom.
Everyone understands that colleges and universities don’t want to jeopardize federal funding they already receive. Current research, student loans and other programs risk defunding because the school waded into the medical marijuana arena.
Every miner needs a shovel.
Ewart said there is a need and demand for certification from students who want to launch their own businesses. But the school can’t offer degrees in cannabis like they do for other fields. Instead of a degree in growing, transporting or selling weed, Ewart guides students to ancillary operations. These include less illicit industries like security, marketing, accounting and retail.
Much like the California ‘gold rush’ of the 1800’s, the modern ‘green rush’ is benefiting ancillary businesses the most. “If the legislation says you must have fencing with video surveillance, well, that’s good for the fencing and video industries,” Ewart said.
When Americans for Safe Access began offering training in 2002, there were only 11 dispensaries in the country. Over the last 15 years, the industry has grown and evolved with many competitors entering the market.
The race is on.
As more states join the green rush, more schools will offer similar programs. Companies like the THC Institute, Cannabis Training Institute and Green Cultured have certified training programs available. Each has a unique perspective and philosophy so finding the right one for you requires a little research.
Courses offered by Americans for Safe Access include instruction about laws and regulations; the latest evidence on uses for medical marijuana; plant and product consistency; pesticides; sanitation; operating procedures; labeling, inventory control and record keeping; and more.
The University of Maryland offers 30-hour certification courses on their website for $450 to $750. People from West Virginia, the District of Columbia and even California have also shown interest in the courses. Only time will tell if this becomes a major trend but I for one hope it does.