October 08, 2016 - 8:00 PM
BATHURST, N.B. - A community college in New Brunswick is offering a course in horticulture tailored to equip students with the skills to work in a growing industry — marijuana cultivation.
A school official at the College communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick says the course will launch sometime next year and has been designed in collaboration with industry leaders to train skilled workers capable of working in the highly regulated medical marijuana industry.
Michel Doucet, executive director of continuing education and customized learning, says the school has already received interest from people keen on working in the marijuana industry, but warns that the program is not intended for hobbyists.
"People think that you grow the plant and leave with it, bring it home. No, absolutely not," Doucet says. "They don't ingest it, they grow it ... This is a secure environment. You don't just walk in and say, 'I want a job at a medical marijuana facility.'"
Much of the learning will take place outside the classroom, Doucet says. The school is teaming up with industry partners to ensure that students gain technical experience in licensed facilities by being involved in the day-to-day care of the plants under the supervision of senior employees.
The CEO of International Herbs Medical Marijuana Ltd, which operates Zenabis, a medical marijuana company in Atholville, N.B., says producers across the country have had trouble finding qualified, educated workers. Kevin Coft says Zenabis, along with two other licensed producers, have been working with the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association and the New Brunswick school to develop a curriculum based on a similar program in British Columbia that offers apprenticeships and the skills to work at any facility as well as opportunities to specialize.
"You're talking about an industry that is coming out of a veiled curtain," Coft says. "This is an industry with a problem right now trying to find qualified people."
The New Brunswick government has backed Zenabis with $4 million in funding based on the company's projection to create up to 208 jobs in the province.
Premier Brian Gallant has also announced $1 million in potential funding for OrganiGram, one of 30 producers licensed by Health Canada to produce medical marijuana. Denis Arsenault, CEO of the Moncton-based marijuana company, said it will be adding around 100 new jobs in the next year to 16 months. He hopes some of them will be awarded to graduates of the New Brunswick college's program.
"The marijuana plant, as much as we call it a weed — it's probably easy to get it to grow," Arsenault said.
"The problem is, then you need to grow it consistently. It's a medicine, so the crop that you grow in January needs to be the same as the crop you grow in March. Therein lies a lot of the expertise that needs to be put in place," he said. "To have a curriculum that really zeros in on the plant science of marijuana ... That's fantastic."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016