This op-ed was originally published on the Canadian Science Policy Centres website.
It’s official. On October 17, Canada will become just the second country in the world to fully legalize the recreational use and possession of cannabis. As provinces and territories hurry to tackle the new regulatory frameworks required to ensure public safety, we are witnessing a historic moment – the emergence of a brand-new sector of the economy.
The opportunity to observe a new industry take shape so quickly is unprecedented in my memory. Companies across the country, both new and long-established, are ramping up to meet the demands of a new market that technically doesn’t even exist yet. Needless to say, preparing for success is a bit complicated when your industry is flirting with the boundaries of legality, but being ahead of the curve is exactly what is required to hit the ground running on October 17th.
Though there are many transferable skills involved in growing and distributing cannabis, from crop production to sales, the new regulations make this a unique industry, in need of a specialized and highly qualified workforce. Luckily, cannabis producers and regulators can already count on the support of a growing number of colleges and institutes.
Demonstrating their capacity to mobilize quickly to meet employer demand, colleges and institutes across Canada have already launched new programs to equip the workforce with the new and reframed skillsets required by both employees and entrepreneurs in the emerging cannabis industry.
At Niagara College, a new program in Commercial Cannabis Production provides training in all aspects of production from plant nutrition, environment, and pest control, to cannabis facilities management, staffing, and security. Meanwhile, Durham College’s Cannabis Industry Specialization Certificate offers both in-class and interactive online training to equip professionals with prior business experience with the fundamentals of the emerging industry, including regulatory considerations, ethical issues, and quality control.
Many others across the country, including Olds College, Kwantlen Polytechnic Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunwwick (CCNB), Cégep de Sherbrooke, and Loyalist College, have similarly launched programs recently in anticipation of legalization.
From cultivation and facilities management to sales and business fundamentals, these ground-breaking programs will ensure that Canada meets the workforce demand in all aspects of the emerging cannabis industry. In each of these programs, we also see the strength of college and institute relationships with their industry partners, the long list of which already includes some of the leading players in the cannabis industry, such as Sundial, Terra Life Sciences, Canopy Growth Corp, MedReleaf Corp, GrowWise Health Ltd, Emblem Corp, and Zenabis.
These partnerships will help ensure that students are taught the skills they need to rapidly integrate into this growing industry, and will also help colleges and institutes offer relevant work-integrated learning opportunities in the form of work placements and applied research projects.
Training is only the beginning, and I soon expect to see colleges and institutes involved in innovative cannabis-related applied research projects aiming to refine or adapt products, services, technologies, and processes. Both Loyalist College’s Applied Research Centre for Natural Products and Medical Cannabis and Biopterre, the College Centre for Technology Transfer (CCTT) affiliated with Cégep de La Pocatière have already received licenses from Health Canada to produce and cultivate cannabis for research purposes. One such research project from Loyalist College involves brewing an alcohol-free beer by replacing barley and grains with fermented cannabis!
I can only imagine what might come next. Legalizing cannabis will have an impact across many more sectors than we may realize at first glance. Culinary arts, drug detection and law enforcement, mental health and addictions counselling, are just a few of the many disciplines that will be affected. There is also the matter of managing the presence of cannabis on campus in this new environment. Here too, colleges and institutes have a critical role to play in meeting opportunities head-on and navigating new waters. As institutions that have always been leaders in adapting to changing times, I am confident that they are up to the task.
President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada