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BCC And Berkshire Roots Growing A New Strain Of Cannabis Education

The Berkshire Community College logo

As the marijuana industry continues to take hold in Massachusetts, Berkshire Community College is developing a unique cannabis certificate course with a local dispensary.

BCC is no stranger to crafting curriculum to meet specific needs in the job market.

“So we have done certificate programs in medical coding and medical terminology. We’ve done quite a bit on advanced manufacturing. We have done courses – we just did a fast track in hospitality," said Christina Wynn, Dean of Enrollment Management. “We work very closely with employers to understand what it is that they need in an employee, and we pull together courses and other academic support services that will help them meet those needs.”

Now, with a new proposed cannabis certificate program, the college based in Pittsfield is working with a local dispensary on a program that will address the wide variety of needs the burgeoning industry requires from its employees.

“We’re looking for people that can learn new skills quickly, because it’s sort of uncharted territory," said Maya Richards.

Richards is the training and outreach manager at Berkshire Roots, a recreational and medicinal dispensary in the city. It’s one of five county stores to offer adult-use recreational marijuana, with more on the way.

“For the retail department, customer service is important, retail experience outside the cannabis industry is important," she told WAMC. "We have people that have done food service industry, and that’s kind of a lot of where people are coming from from retail. For cultivation, we have a lot of people who are horticulturalists or farmers or just have a passion for gardening and growing. And processing, it’s a lot of manufacturing work – so people that have a manufacturing background or know about supply chain and stuff like that.”

Berkshire Roots and BCC began conversations in 2018, and now – pending approval from the college’s Education Affairs Committee and the state Department of Higher Education – it could be a reality as early as this spring.

“We’re trying to build a course that exposes people to all of those different areas through the curriculum, so through the business communication course, the science courses, they’ll have labs that are directly relevant to what we’re doing at Berkshire Roots and give them a full picture of all of the opportunities available in the industry,” said Richards.

That full picture involves real, on the ground training.

“They’ll actually be doing a practicum, internship placement at the dispensary, working alongside professionals and experts in the field and learning skills that are directly applicable to work that they were doing if they were to find a job in the field,” she said.

Ten states have already fully legalized marijuana, but Wynn says the certificate program could be a first.

“We looked at other programs and we decided in conversations with Berkshire Roots that those were not really meeting the needs, so we’ve very proud to say that this is a program that is really, I think, a model for what other colleges, other employers might be looking for in terms of getting a workforce,” said the dean.

“There are different certificates nationwide," said Richards. “Most of them aren’t accredited, a lot of them are independent academic institutes, but they’re not nationally accredited. Berkshire Community College is a legitimate academic institute and the courses that they’re providing are applicable to other industries. So if someone decides after going through this certificate that maybe this isn’t the right industry for them, they still have the courses that they can either apply to a different degree if they want to transfer somewhere else, or it looks impressive on a resume.”

With county stores like Theory Wellness in Great Barrington bringing in $17 million in the first half of 2019 and population centers like North Adams awaiting their first weed retailer, the certificate could catch the industry as it continues to expand. Richards says since Berkshire Roots opened in 2018, it’s doubled its staff from 40 to almost 80.

“We still have expansion that we’re doing within the company in all areas, so we’re adding space to the grow facility, we’re adding packaging rooms, we’re expanding our kitchen, we’re doing a whole new lab – so the issue of space won’t be as important any more, and we’ll be able to bring more bodies in," she told WAMC. "There’s definitely work to be done, and the demand is there, so we’re not planning on slowing down any time soon.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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