A couple Saturdays ago, I took a class for the first time in years. It wasn't to relearn algebra (although I have definitely forgotten it), but to become a certified cannabis worker. The four-hour course, which is offered by the Science of Cannabis Institute (SCI) and is held on the University of Washington campus, is the first of its kind in Washington State, part of a growing cannabis education industry. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) recently announced that it would create a medical marijuana consultant certification program, and SCI hopes to offer accredited medical marijuana consultant certification courses.
Currently, though, the institute's certification doesn't confer any official status. You just take the class (which costs $125), take a short online exam afterward, and if you pass—which I did, thankfully—you get a link to a printable version of your certificate. The class is essentially a leg up on the competition for cannabusiness job seekers, or professional development for those already in the industry. Given the long history of cannabis cultivation prior to legalization, is such education really necessary? Absolutely. Legalization has brought specialization to the industry, and knowing how to grow good pot is only one piece of the puzzle these days.
Trey Reckling, the course's instructor and cofounder of the institute, put it thusly: "Many professionals have approached us as students, lawyers, nurses, cooks, financial officers, and scientists, thinking they need to reinvent themselves to work in this space. Some think they have to know how to grow. We rather encourage them to bring their skills to cannabis. We need infrastructure and experience from all of those areas and more."
While the course does not teach you how to grow pot, it does go over a lot of useful information. Reckling begins with a 203-slide PowerPoint presentation on the history of the plant, which will help you sound very smart at the next cocktail party you attend. Did you know that ancient Egyptians had a hieroglyph for cannabis? Or that Queen Victoria used it to treat menstrual pain? Now you do.
The history of cannabis naturally segues into the history of cannabis prohibition, which includes a bunch of fun images of anti-cannabis propaganda—"Reefer Madness!" "Devil's Harvest!" "The Assassin of Youth!"—as well as some very apt quotes on how and why we decided to ban pot. The fact that the rise of opiates helped speed along the demise of pot in the 1930s is particularly troubling, given what we now know about how that worked out for us. But hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
The difference between indica and sativa is fairly common knowledge these days, but did you know there is a third strain of cannabis called cannabis ruderalis that originates in central Russia? It is autoflowering, meaning it flowers based on its age and not light cycles as other cannabis species do. Also fascinating: THC is one of 100 cannabinoids found in pot. "The plant is so much more than just THC," said Reckling, before launching into an explanation of terpenes, CBD receptors, are the promising effects of cannabis for brain injury.
After the fun slides are over, the course gets fairly technical, delving into the legal structure of I-502, what you can and can't say about medical marijuana, suggested employment opportunities in the various sectors of the industry, and the nitty-gritty details of regulatory compliance for cannabis workers. Reckling helps the material along with his easy humor and soothing Southern drawl. He's from Savannah, Georgia, and he moved here 18 months ago with his fiancé (now husband) to get into cannabusiness. In Georgia, he worked at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he was the director of student development. SCI is the ultimate iteration of his two passions, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter is infectious.
Which is great, because much of the subject matter is dry but extremely important for people in the industry. I've been to quite a few pot shops where the budtender was surprised to learn that the state requires shops to have a printed list of all pesticides and fertilizers used on their products handy for customers. Jess Henson, who works in analytics for huge online strain database Leafly and has done time in both the medical and recreational sectors, echoed this concern. She said one of the biggest issues in the industry is the "education gap," and that programs to promote worker education are vital to the future of the industry.
Reckling told me that Randy Simmons, the former deputy director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, encouraged him when he approached him about the institute, saying, "Please do this." Now that the DOH has just created the first cannabis industry job that will require formal education, Reckling and his partners are banking on it not being the last. While a medical consultant certificate is a small start, it opens the door to a whole world of cannabis education. SCI has already offered classes on ancient hash-making techniques and has courses in the works on cooking, home growing, I-502 compliance, and talking to your doctor about pot, among others.
A few years ago, saying that someone "majored in weed" was not a compliment. In a couple years, it could be.
This story has been edited since it was originally published.