University of California, Riverside’s continuing education center now has a cannabis program that seeks to train students to become employees and leaders in the state’s growing legal cannabis industry.
The courses are offered through UCR Extension, the university’s continuing education division that focuses on professional education and training.
UCR Extension is offering four cannabis certificates: the business of cannabis, cannabis healthcare and medicine, cannabis law and policy, and cannabis agriculture and horticulture.
According to Eric Latham, Director of Program Development with UCR Extension, the program came about as a response to the growing legal cannabis industry in the Inland Empire and the rest of California.
“I started thinking about this probably in the fall of 2019, so just over a year ago. And I was seeing a lot of news coverage about the cannabis industry and those kinds of things and almost off-hand I said to my dean, you know, this seems to be really taking off. How do you feel about me checking in and seeing if we can offer some kind of programming? She said absolutely, go for it.”
Latham started reaching out to experts in the cannabis field to see what a certificate program might look like.
“What was pretty clear upfront is it is a complicated business, a complicated industry for a lot of different reasons. Because there's different state, federal regulations, and even down to one from city to the next or one county to the next there can be different regulations so it becomes complicated very quickly. And you know sometimes because of some potential stigma people may not be as interested in wanting to identify themselves as an expert in this area. So it became clear to me that it would be hard for us on our own to develop the content in the breadth and scope that would've been required,” Latham says.
So, UCR partnered with Green Flower Media to produce cannabis educational content.
“And they have been providing programs in the industry for several years, and they had really started to work with the university in providing content. And so we had our first meeting sometime in March or so, and that led to us going through the process of getting the content and getting it approved.”
Latham says the cannabis certificates open up a variety of career pathways for students.
“The job opportunities are tremendous. There's people that may say, want to start their own business, and we do a lot of that, we offer a lot of programs that would help people on an entrepreneurial kind of track, but other people want to do some kind of specific aspect of working in that business and they need the educational credentials to do that. So that could be working for somebody who's growing cannabis or it could be somebody who's setting up a dispensary or an online shop," Latham says.
"It's just like any other business. There's lots of different ways people could plug in. And talking with employers out there, they're looking for people, and just like any other employer, they want people that have the education, have experience, and are good employees and will do the work.”
Latham says there’s a societal benefit to having well-trained people in the legal cannabis industry.
“The people have spoken. This is a business that people want to see, and if we want that kind of business to be successful, we need good employees to go into those businesses and we want good-paying jobs. That's incredibly important, and that's really our mission, we do that across the spectrum in all kinds of different industries. We want people to be able to move up in their career and that's how we measure our success. So I think it's a win-win for employers, for the individuals that want to go into that business, but there's also a societal benefit that if this is going to be a successful business, people will need successful and well-qualified people going into that business," Latham says.
"And in this particular case, the alternative is the black market, which has existed forever, and so if we don't have a good stream of people coming into that business, the competition is a black market and I don't think that that's something that is good for our society or our state.”
The majority of the students currently enrolled in the program are from the Inland Empire or elsewhere in Southern California. Latham says that’s good for the region.
“We have this mass exodus of people that leaves the Inland Empire every day to go work in Los Angeles and Orange counties. We'd like to do our part to create good-paying, career-type jobs for folks in the Inland Empire. I think that's one of those big societal benefits that we'd like to contribute to.”