Legal cannabis in California is a multi-billion dollar industry, and many Californians are trying to figure out how to get a piece of the action.

But specific hurdles and a lack of industry knowledge have made it challenging for prospective employees and entrepreneurs to break in and get their careers started.

That’s why the University of California, Riverside has partnered with a prominent online cannabis education company to fill the gap in institutional know-how and help Californians, particularly many in the Inland Empire, learn more about the industry and its pitfalls and better their chances of being hired on with an existing company, or even grow one from the ground up.

The university’s extension program has been working with a company called Green Flower, which has set up a curriculum, assembled a roster of instructors and worked to establish a hiring portal for those looking to make a career out of cannabis.

An array of cannabis plants sit in pots as seen in an instructional video provided by Green Flower.
An array of cannabis plants sit in pots as seen in an instructional video provided by Green Flower.

For Eric Latham, chief financial and administrative officer at UC Riverside University Extension, offering a program that gives those interested in pursuing the industry the proper tools and education to do it right was a no-brainer.

“Cannabis is a big industry in the state of California, one of the fastest growing, and certainly within the Inland Empire where we’re located,” Latham said. “So it seemed like a logical area to explore.”

The University Extension is all about helping adults continue their education and parlay that knowledge into careers, whatever they may be. Latham said there was obvious demand for classes and the school looked at cannabis the same way it would explore any other industry.

The school works with teachers and nurses who want to further their careers and increase their knowledge, so why not cannabis?

Educators could work with interested students and help them become qualified and knowledgeable in the cannabis industry, or risk losing them to the black market, Latham said.

But to get students taught and on the right path, they needed experts in the field.

“It became very clear that it was a super complicated industry,” Latham said. “The state of California and people of California have said that this is an industry that we want to have available, but there are issues with the federal government and things like that, so it becomes very complicated very quickly and finding experts is difficult.”

That led the school to Green Flower, which has partnered with dozens of other schools across the nation, building teaching curricula and providing instructors for those interested in getting started.

Max Simon, CEO of Green Flower, said the company’s services are critically important because most people simply don’t realize “how complex and complicated running a cannabis business really is.”

Many of the challenges include being in compliance with the state and federal government, working with banks, lawyers or other merchants, or simply keeping a business afloat.

“There’s a lot of ways that people can make mistakes, can lose money, can operate out of compliance, or can just basically get crushed by the competition because they’re not doing these things very well,” Simon said. “And so these programs are really designed to take you from an outsider to an insider.”

A man trims a cannabis plant in an instructional video provided by Green Flower.
A man trims a cannabis plant in an instructional video provided by Green Flower.

There are 83,000 people working in the legal cannabis industry in California, Simon says, so there’s no shortage of interest in pot careers. But Green Flower wants to make sure that those choosing to pursue those careers are set up for success, which is something Latham says is important when deciding who the school partners with.

“I think we want people that can run their businesses well, that’s certainly important, and they want good employees,” Latham said. “We get lots of requests from employers in the industry looking for good, high-quality employees. And there are people who are enthusiastic about cannabis, they’re users of cannabis, and they’re interested in it for that reason, but that may not always be the best motivation for a good quality employee. And so, this is a way to give people the skillset that they would need to be a good employee within that industry.”

The classes offered by UCR and operated by Green Flower cover a variety of topics for those exploring the cannabis field. The University Extension offers certificate programs for cannabis health care and medicine, a certificate for agriculture and horticulture, one for the business of cannabis, and one for compliance and risk management.

  • A screenshot from an instructional video from Green Flower that is used in its Cannabis Healthcare and Medicine Certificate program.
  • A screenshot from an instructional video from Green Flower that is used in its Cannabis Healthcare and Medicine Certificate program.

Each certificate program provides students with a unique perspective on the industry and thorough instruction.

In the agriculture class, students actually learn how to grow a real plant. In health care and medicine, students learn about the science and medicinal benefits of weed. The compliance course teaches students about the many strict regulations surrounding cannabis and how to stay in compliance. The business program offers guidance and advice about starting a successful company.

For those interested in starting a cannabis business, arguably the biggest hurdle is faced right off the bat.

“I don’t think most people realize how difficult it is just to get a license,” Simon said, adding that many people who work their way through the business certificate program are often gobsmacked by the process and find the classes eye-opening.

“The reasons why people don’t get licenses is they don’t understand the licensing process, they don’t understand what the licensing agencies are looking for and they don’t understand how to fill out the applications and all the things that are necessary … There’s a pretty enormous list of things that somebody has to know about if you’re going to even have a chance of winning a license,” he said.

For those who want a job in cannabis but don’t want to go through the hassle of starting an entire business, Simon says the classes offered at UC Riverside help them stand out in a crowded field and a certificate shows prospective employers that they aren’t just hobbyists looking to make a quick buck.

“We’ve got a very deeply ingrained partnership with this company called Careers in Cannabis, which is a job-matching platform with employers and cannabis people,” Simon said. “When people go through these programs, everybody that’s a badge holder gets ‘force ranked’ above everyone else on the platform in terms of their skills and credibility.”

If you’ve got a certificate from the program, you’ll stand out among a crowded field and automatically have a leg up on the competition, Simon says.

So who is taking these classes?

Brandon Mendez enrolled during the spring and is on track to receive an agriculture and horticulture certificate in the coming months.

Always interested in the subject of botany, and someone who has used medical marijuana to treat crippling migraines, the classes offered at UC Riverside were an obvious fit.

“I was decently educated on the topic of cannabis cultivation before I went into this class, so some of the material I was already kind of familiar with,” Mendez said. “But I really appreciated how certain topics … the course went into great detail and explained them to me, ‘why these things are so important, what they do.'”

The courses are asynchronous, which allows him to fit classwork into his busy schedule. He says he feels like he’s gotten value from the program and might actually sign up for another certificate path.

A worker waters a cannabis plant as seen in a screenshot from an instructional video by Green Flower.
A worker waters a cannabis plant as seen in a screenshot from an instructional video by Green Flower.

“I do want to start looking for a way to enter the cannabis industry,” Mendez said. “But at the same time, I also am interested in taking more classes through Green Flower just so I can expand my knowledge of the cannabis industry as I’m growing in it.”

Aside from some initial surprise that you can actually take classes in cannabis through a real university, Mendez said virtually everyone in his life is supportive of his pot pursuits, which he credits to the ever-evolving stigma surrounding cannabis.

On the education side of things, Latham says the program has received virtually no push-back from the community or the UC system, which he also agrees is due to changing perspectives.

“I think people are seeing that there needs to be a well-regulated industry, and the way to do that is through providing education so that people can meet the expectations and provide good quality jobs and good businesses that benefit everybody in the state,” Latham said.

Unsurprisingly, Simon, the CEO of the cannabis education company providing these classes, agrees. He says in addition to the career-boosting benefits the classes provide, they also give students up-to-date and accurate information about the safety, science and industry of cannabis.

“When you see that, you can’t help but acknowledge that this is actually a really good thing for society,” Simon said. “It creates a lot of jobs, it creates a lot of tax revenue, it helps a lot of people with ailments and conditions that they otherwise can’t … and it’s an industry that people love.”

For more information about the cannabis education certificate programs offered through UC Riverside, including prices and payment options, click here.