In 2014, when Max Simon noticed how complicated it was for cannabis entrepreneurs to understand and implement compliance regulations, he decided to do something about it. He established Green Flower, a comprehensive, on-demand training platform specifically for the cannabis industry.
“A Compliance Training Mandate is part of licensing requirements,” he said. What makes it that much more difficult for cannabis professionals to comply is that laws regarding compliance training differ in all states.
“I hope federal reform will bring a unified philosophy to compliance training,” said Simon. Dale Sky Jones, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, agrees. Oaksterdam launched the United States’ first formalized educational program for the cannabis industry in 2007.
The absence of federal oversight is a challenge for the marijuana industry, so Jones advises cannabis entrepreneurs to “Set up your business based on federal standards because they will be here someday. For example, federal regulations already in effect govern labor law, product testing, and labeling requisites for companies nationwide for consumer health and safety. Therefore, it is advantageous to comply with those regulations at the outset of establishing a cannabis business rather than playing ‘catch-up’ later and risking it.”
“One thousand to $1,500 in additional costs to meet federal standards versus not complying can lead to huge fines and costly penalties,” said Jones.
But, she laments, the current protocol for compliance training is not industry-friendly. “Usually, compliance companies only offer training to owner-operators after licensing, but that’s too late. Compliance is elementary for a cannabis company from day one,” she said. Compliance training is currently aimed at owners, but employees in a cannabis entity need to be educated about it, too, said Jones. “Unless a person is already hired and then trained through the company on compliance and other requisite matters, there is no outside way to train jobseekers under current rules,” Jones said.
How Tech is Leveling the Playing Field
Technology is at the heart of how Green Flower operates. “Green Flower saw this huge challenge. Using technology, we developed a curriculum customized to each state for (cannabis) operators,” said Simon. After that, Simon’s entity earned accreditation in all 50 states “so Green Flower can be the training compliance partner for operations across the country.”
Green Flower delivers its educational offerings via e-technology. “Our sophisticated e-learning curriculum is 100% online,” he said. The online platform generates reports about people’s progress and issues digital badges to reward students for their accomplishments. “We use all forms of technology to deliver a quality program,” said Simon.
Technology has also enabled Green Flower to establish partnerships with universities across the country for its cannabis education curriculum. “We use our materials with a school’s brand, supervision, and oversight,” Simon said. Its newest higher education partners include Gonzaga University, Louisiana State University, and The University of Arizona.
Green Flower is seeking to establish university partnerships with schools in all 50 states. “It brings credibility to have a mainstream university help develop the workforce,” he said. Scottsdale Community College was the first public university in Arizona to offer a certificate in cannabis, said Dr. Bobra Crockett, residential faculty and cannabis business program director. It offered its first non-credit beta class in January 2021 based on the belief that Arizona voters would approve recreational cannabis in the November 2020 election. Arizonans did.
A student can earn a certificate in Cannabis Business Fundamentals after successfully completing four online courses. They are: Introduction to Cannabis; Social Equity and Current Issues; Legal and Regulatory Environment, including Compliance; and Supply Chain Management.
Currently, Scottsdale’s cannabis curriculum is accredited only in the state of Arizona, so out-of-state students are generally not accepted. However, the school does offer a non-credit course for out-of-staters open to anyone in the U.S.
Classes use the Canvas management learning system and include videos, podcasts, and guest speakers, said Crockett. The school began offering its cannabis certificate in Fall 2022 and celebrated its first graduates in May 2023.
While Crockett and fellow administrators have discussed offering the cannabis curriculum in person, the school’s research indicates online courses are “trending,” she said.
The Pros and Cons of Online Education
“The pandemic forced a lot of transitions. It was painful at the moment but I’m glad,” said Jones. It forced her and her colleagues to overhaul and reimagine their programs.
One significant change brought on by the pandemic is converting Oaksterdam’s curricula into SCORM format, which are files allowing a digital-based curriculum to be shared across Learning Management Systems (“LMS”). That allows academic programs to use OU’s curricula as a basis for their programs, like Highland College in Illinois.
While online education is a convenience for many, it isn’t for everyone. “The digital and experience divide in our student base is huge. Our student body ranges in age from 18 to 96 years old,” she said. Jones notes that some students in the school’s Social Equity program were incarcerated, so they have little computer experience. To counter that, “we are regularly trying to instill best practices as a standard,” she said.
Oaksterdam’s cannabis education program taps into technology in various ways. In addition to a fully interactive experience over Zoom with subject matter expert faculty and other students, plus a fulsome LMS for self-paced programs, the school offers a full-blown Employer Toolkit for compliance.
The kit features templates for various videos and checklists a cannabis operator needs to ensure their venture meets compliance regulations in areas such as hiring, onboarding, documentation, and exit strategies. “We utilize various technological platforms so employers can plug-in and play. Technology gives us the opportunity to try and fail. A sandbox to test systems is key,” Jones said.
This article first appeared in Volume 5 Issue 2 of Cannabis & Tech Today. Read the full issue here.