Interest buds in BC university cannabis course as Canada moves to legalize

A continuing studies course that began as a joke two years ago has attracted over 500 students who see medical marijuana as a growing job opportunity.

“With 2,000 producers waiting for their licences, there are huge employment possibilities within the industry,” said Laura Armstrong, who has a masters in horticulture science and experience working in cut flower greenhouses. She’s currently completing Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Cannabis Professional Series online course.

“There are only eight licensed producers in B.C. compared to 22 in Ontario.”

The course the only one in Canada that prepares students to work in the cannabis business, said Jim Pelton, executive director of continuing studies for Kwantlen. Armstrong listed some of the types jobs available in the industry: production manager, greenhouse manager, marketing and ensuring compliance with the many Health Canada regulations that govern medical cannabis production and distribution.

“Students are mostly getting jobs inside licenced producers, some are getting jobs in dispensaries,” Pelton said.

Kwantlen’s existing horticulture program made the university a good fit for the program, Pelton said.

“There are 36 licenced producers in the country, and a lot of those folks come out of the pharmaceutical industry or they come out of the investment community, but what they’re getting into is industrial horticulture,” he said. “There’s a need for some expertise.”

Legal marijuana — not just for prescribed medical use — could be on store shelves across Canada by 2018, fulfilling a campaign promise made by the federal Liberals. Pelton is also watching that process closely to see how the government decides to distribute and regulate cannabis.

“We’re trying to find out how to train people to work in this when it happens,” he said.

B.C.’s chief health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, sat on a task force that did research, conducted site visits to jurisdictions that have already legalized cannabis, and drafted recommendations to the federal government as it prepares to table legislation, which could happen as early as June.

The task force has recommended making the age limit for tobacco and cannabis the same (in B.C. it’s 19) and limiting personal possession to 30 grams. Production and processing should be federally regulated, but where products distributed and sold left to municipalities.

Taxation should also be used to encourage users to consume lower-potency products, Kendall said.

The task force also recommended that there be a place for smaller, “craft” producers alongside big, corporate producers. But all the facilities need to employ good production practices to ensure the product is safe, Kendall said.