It all started with a single college course.
“It is ‘BPA 227 — Entrepreneurial Opportunity in Expanding Markets: Cannabis Legalization,” Shad Ewart, chair of the Department of Business Management at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, tells High Times. “That is a mouthful, but that was part of the compromise. I had wanted the title to be ‘Ganjaprenuership.’”
Ewart is referring to the standalone course he currently teaches at Anne Arundel. He first taught BPA 227 back in January 2015, largely as a response to the growing interest students had in cannabis and legalization.
“I was teaching a small business management course, and students were asking about legalization,” Ewart says. “It was becoming more of a hot topic in Colorado. They knew about what was going on in California, and they were talking about it a lot.”
One of Ewart’s former students, a licensed medical grower in California, visited his class as a guest speaker.
“I have never seen students as engaged as I saw them that day,” Ewart shares. “I literally left him there at the end of the class because I had to go teach another class. I walked back an hour and a half later, and instead of 20 students questioning him, there were now 40 students.”
Ewart describes that as his proverbial light bulb moment.
“I said, ‘Hey, I need a class in this,’” he explains. “That was the genesis of BPA 227, and it’s been very successful.”
He currently has “about 10 or 12” students presently working within the cannabis industry in Maryland, where a medical marijuana program was established in 2013 but didn’t get off the ground until 2017. Recreational cannabis remains illegal in the state.
Still, that hasn’t deterred Ewart from thinking big. Last year, he proposed a 16-credit multidisciplinary program that would effectively prepare students for entry-level careers in the cannabis space.
“Compare it to the gold rush,” Ewart says. “In the gold rush, the people who made the money were not the people who found the gold nuggets. It was the people who sold the picks and shovels, so that’s where I encourage my students to look.”
Ewart’s proposed program, formally known as the Medical Cannabis Specialist program, is now with the college’s internal educational and planning committee. Soon, he will have the opportunity to defend his proposal before the committee, and — if approved — it will then go before the full faculty.
But the process won’t end there. If the full faculty approves it, it will next go to the Anne Arundel Community College Board of Trustees. And if they approve, it will go to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, who has the final say in whether the program will come to fruition.
“My job is to identify jobs where students can find employment and build a career out of it,” Ewart says. “Then I talk to the people in the industry to determine the knowledge, skills, and abilities you want out of an entry-level worker. I match those knowledge, skills, and abilities with the learning objectives of our course.”
Most students, Ewart explains, aren’t in a position to get their own grow operation up and running. But many are more than capable of making a positive and helpful contribution to the booming industry.
“They don’t have $25 million, which is about the average cost to open up a grow facility in Maryland,” he says. “They don’t have $1 million to open up a dispensary. It was my view that there is no academic path to be an entry-level worker in the industry, which is how I ended up with the curriculum.”
In total, the proposed program is comprised of five courses, including chemistry, entrepreneurship and cannabis legalization, business, botany, and psychology. In theory, a student could complete the program in one semester over 15 weeks. It isn’t a long-term commitment, and Ewart says he prefers it that way.
“It is entry-level,” he says. “Let’s say somebody gets a job as a budtender and they want to be a manager one day, they can go on to get a business degree, and so forth. My proposed program is specific to what was desired by the folks who are going to hire these people.”
Ewart describes the response to BPA 227 as “overwhelming” and suggests that the full-fledged program, if ultimately implemented, could be something really big.
“I would absolutely anticipate that it would grow tremendously,” he says. “Anne Arundel Community College is very good at putting courses online. If we could deliver it online, it would be a viable program not just in Maryland, but nationwide. It really is an unlimited market as each state rolls out legalization.”