Durham College Educates the Next Wave of Cannabis Professionals

byErik McLaren3 minutes

As the Canadian government moves forward with legalization, industrious people are looking for ways to break into the marijuana industry and make their mark.

Now that the industry is gaining legitimacy, resources for people looking to be a part of it have appeared. Even colleges are getting in on educating the next wave of cannabis professionals. One of the first programs of this kind in Canada is Medical Cannabis Fundamentals for Business Professionals at Durham College.


This class is a short crash course in the medical cannabis industry. It only lasts two full days, but that’s enough time for students to gain valuable knowledge in the particulars of the nascent industry.

Instead of focusing on the broader, soon-to-be-legal recreational market in Canada, the course at Durham zeros in on the medical side of the industry. The chief reason for this focus is the clear legality of medical marijuana. While recreational cannabis will soon be legal in Canada, medical marijuana has been legal nationwide for more than 15 years.

How the Cannabis Education Program Got Started

The idea for the program came from Durham College’s Executive Dean of Science, Technology and Engineering Susan Todd. Todd had been watching the industry for a while and last spring decided to have some industry leaders in to discuss the cannabis industry. “We wanted to know what they were looking for as employers,” says Debbie Johnston, Durham College’s dean of continuing education.

The consultation involved about 20 people from various parts of the cannabis industry. This small summit crystallized two clear messages for Durham College. “For business positions, employers are looking for people who have a traditional area of strength—marketing, project management, operations—those kinds of regular jobs,” says Johnston.

The other message was more specific to the cannabis industry. “People looking for jobs really need to understand the industry,” Johnston says. “They don’t need an expansive knowledge, but they need to have a core understanding of what’s going on.”

The Medical Marijuana Course‘s Focus

While this medical marijuana class is a business course, the goal isn’t to teach people about the intricacies of the business world. The main purpose of the program is to equip students with basic fundamentals of the medical cannabis industry. “It’s 99% cannabis specific,” says Johnston.

Focusing so heavily on the cannabis industry may leave some people lacking basic business knowledge behind, but so far it hasn’t been an issue at Durham College. “We’ve not yet had anybody who had trouble keeping pace with their business knowledge, because if something needs explanation, we explain it,” Johnston says.

The course is very practical, with the main goal to help people find employment in the Canadian medical cannabis industry. Part of the overall experience comes from the opportunity to meet many people already involved with medical cannabis.

Along with a regular instructor who has a research background, every class also has an industry expert present. So far, all of these experts come from Canadian companies that are licensed to produce medical marijuana. “If our instructor can’t answer a question, they’re there to provide those answers,” says Johnston.

The questions and course material largely revolve around understanding the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) set down by the Canadian government in 2001.

While this course focuses most on the practical side of working in the medical cannabis industry, it shouldn’t be expected to land students a job in the field immediately. “We’re very careful to tell people this course in and of itself won’t get you a job,” Johnston says

There Will Be More Cannabis in College

So far, this program has been a success at Durham College, according to Johnston. So much so that Durham College is using it as a springboard into a larger role in the cannabis industry. “It’s given us the opportunity to get a lot more connections and exposure in the industry,” says Johnston.

This expanding role in the cannabis industry will involve new more in-depth courses very soon. One of those courses will be a general education elective for post-secondary students called Legalization of Cannabis in Canada. Another course that Durham College is just on the cusp of developing will be called Medical Cannabis for Health Care Professionals.

Most important though will be the expansion of cannabis into other courses. “It’s really important to incorporate cannabis into existing programs.” Johnston says. “In the same way a business course may cover banking, some courses should cover cannabis.”

Photo credit: Davide Cantelli