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Why Canada's University-Trained Pot Growers Might End Up Slinging Lattes

Higher education could leave graduates feeling low.

by Jordan Pearson
Aug 20 2015, 12:00pm

Image: Flickr/Brett Levin

A university in British Columbia, the storied home of legendary Canadian bud, recently opened registration for an online course dedicated to the art of growing and selling medical marijuana. But in the nascent Canadian medical pot industry, where the number of potential employers for trained bud growers is tightly regulated, will graduates be left slinging lattes after graduation like the rest of us?

As any unemployed university graduate knows all too well, just because a university program exists, that doesn't mean that there's an industry ready to absorb its graduates.

The program, a 14-week online course provided by Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, is promising to teach students the basics of how to grow high quality medical marijuana, as well as how to properly file paperwork and follow federal regulations.

"We prefer to train people in our very particular operating procedures"

According to course instructor Deepak Anand, who is also executive director of the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association, the program aims to pump out 80 graduates every three months. That number was dictated, he told me in an interview, by the university's guidelines for the maximum number of students that can be enrolled in a course, and the number of instructors available.

But will all these graduates get jobs, or even be allowed to grow marijuana legally? You can't grow your own medical marijuana in Canada unless you have a special license, which the government stopped issuing last year. This means that graduates from Kwantlen Polytechnic University's course will likely be angling for jobs at one of the 25 existing licensed medical grow ops in the entire country, rather than starting their own business. Just six of those companies are based in BC.

Cameron Battley, vice president of communications for Ontario medical marijuana cultivator Bedrocan Canada Inc., doesn't think students trained to grow bud would be a boon for the company.

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"We prefer to train people in our very particular operating procedures, which are very different from virtually everybody else in the industry," Battley told me in an interview. "My next question is whether or not a program specifically dedicated to cannabis cultivation is necessary, given that there are some excellent agricultural colleges in Canada."

Bedrocan prefers to hire people who hold master's of science degrees in agriculture, Bettley said.

The CEO of another licensed medical marijuana grower in BC—who wished to remain anonymous due to concerns over backlash for disparaging the university—told me that her company is rather "self sufficient" when it comes to training employees in their particular method of growing cannabis. Graduates from a university program that teaches the craft would not necessarily be of interest to the company.

Health Canada is sitting on 2,000 applications from companies trying to get in on the green rush

But growing is just part of what students will learn, Anand told me. The program will also focus on how to comply with Canadian regulations more generally, as they apply to all parts of the medical marijuana industry.

"Different companies have specific in-house growing techniques and unique cannabis strains, but what this course really talks about is compliance with federal regulations, which every single licensed producer across the country is licensed to follow," Anand said. "If they want to keep their license, they're going to need to know these methods, and how to apply them to cannabis."

The pot industry in Canada is often talked about in terms of booming growth, but Health Canada—which approves and regulates licenses to grow—is currently sitting on roughly 2,000 applications from companies all hoping to get in on the green rush. "The vast majority of those are not going to become licensed producers," Battley said. "The requirements of Health Canada are quite rigorous, and the investment to get into this business is quite high."

Still, Health Canada itself has predicted that there will be 450,000 medical cannabis users in Canada by 2024, so there may be hope for graduates of the KPU program yet. "It's possible that this program will be useful, depending on the demand for medical marijuana in Canada," Battley continued. "And that's really an open question right now."