Lehman College offering credit for pilot cannabis career certification program

Customers line up at the Bronx's first legal recreational dispensary on Thursday, July 6, 2023.
Customers line up at Statis, the Bronx’s first legal recreational dispensary, in early July.
Photo ET Rodriguez

As the legal cannabis market continues to take up more space in New York state, one Bronx CUNY school is working to educate continuing education students about the “budding”  industry.

Lehman College is offering credit to students who complete the Cannabis Career Exploration and Worker Rights Certification Program through the Cannabis Workforce Initiative (CWI) — a free pilot curriculum that aims to prepare students to start entry-level jobs in the budding legal marijuana industry. 

Jane MacKillop, the dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at Lehman, told the Bronx Times that offering credit for this new certification will propel more people into entrepreneurship by increasing small business prosperity in the borough. According to MacKillop, Lehman is the only CUNY school in the Bronx, and one of two CUNY schools citywide that offer cannabis credits.

“That’s what we do,” MacKillop said. “The School of Continuing and Professional Studies is the bridge into the community, we’re kind of the arm from the college to reach out to the community to help with workforce development and adult degree programs, and so on.”

The CWI is a collaboration between Cornell University and the Workforce Development Institute that aims to promote social equity in the legal cannabis market statewide through workforce development and legal education. Lehman doesn’t offer the certificate program through its own institution, but rather students or prospective students are eligible for one credit upon full completion of the 15-hour curriculum through the CWI.

MacKillop said Lehman is still collecting student surveys from the pilot program — which started in April and ran through the end of June — but the ones the college has received already have been positive. There were 297 people who attended at least one of the classes in this first round.

“We have 47 electronic responses but have to input the paper ones,” she said. “So far the results are overwhelmingly positive, with many people expressing an interest in getting employment in the field or obtaining a license.”

During a visit to one of the classes in mid-May, MacKillop said the students came from diverse backgrounds — people of various ages and experiences, including at least one veteran and people who grow cannabis — but with one similarity: Many of the students hadn’t taken continuing education classes before.  

Very few of the participants had taken classes with us before so we were delighted to reach so many people who were new to Lehman,” MacKillop said.

The curriculum — which covers topics ranging from the cannabis plant to an employee’s rights at work — encompasses 10 different 90-minute classes offered both in person and online one night per week. 

“It’s surprisingly in-depth, given that this is a very large topic, but it provides people with a great deal of background information,” MacKillop said.  

The Cannabis Career Exploration and Worker Rights Certificate Program is a 15-hour curriculum offered to Lehman College students through the Cannabis Workforce Initiative.
The Cannabis Career Exploration and Worker Rights Certificate Program is a 15-hour curriculum offered to Lehman College students through the Cannabis Workforce Initiative. Chart courtesy Camille Botello

Lehman also offers another certification — called the Certificate of Professional Learning: Science of Cannabis — which is a three-course curriculum in conjunction with McMaster University in Ontario, Canada that launched in September 2022.  

MacKillop said she thinks programs like these are necessary, especially because of the issues facing entrepreneurs in the legal adult-use marijuana industry.  

“This is rolling out really very slowly, and there seem to be a number of hiccups,” she said. 

Recreational marijuana was legalized in New York state in March 2021, but the state only just announced the first round of Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses in November 2022 – most of which were granted to entrepreneurs who had prior marijuana-related convictions or whose families were affected by over-policing and the war on drugs. Since the original rollout, there have been 251 total CAURD licenses approved statewide — 36 of them in the Bronx.  

But obtaining legal licensure seems to be the easy part — actually opening up a legal dispensary has proved more complicated. That’s been true especially in the Bronx — where some licensees are struggling to secure vacant commercial spaces that adhere to zoning requirements, and where some simply lack business knowledge. The city opened its first legal dispensary in the East Village neighborhood in Manhattan on Dec. 29, 2022, but the Bronx didn’t get its first storefront until last week.

Apart from the small business aspect of Lehman’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, MacKillop said Lehman is also interested in the justice component of New York City’s adult-use cannabis space. She said the war on drugs had particularly grave consequences for communities like the Bronx.  

“So you have a whole generation of fathers and parents and uncles and and sons and so on, who were sent to prison for long periods of time — the families were totally disrupted,” MacKillop said. “And now that’s been made legal and so there’s the real reparation aspect of the work of the Office of Cannabis Management. And so we want to be part of that because it’s part of the social justice mission of Lehman College.”

David Serrano, the CWI project manager, told the Bronx Times in an interview that his team has also received positive feedback about the new Cannabis Career Exploration and Worker Rights Certificate Program. 

“There has been a lot of gratitude from the community,” he said. “People are feeling like their lives are being changed.”  

But, he said he also knows state officials have to work to continue to ensure an equitable rollout of legal licenses and storefronts. 

“We’re really proud of the work we’ve done thus far, but we recognize there is still so much work to do,” Serrano said. 

MacKillop said there is no set date for the start of the next round of classes yet. Anyone interested in the free Cannabis Career Exploration and Worker Rights Certificate Program through the CWI can get more information by visiting cannaworkforceny.org or emailing contact@cannabisworkforce.org.   

Reach Camille Botello at cbotello@schnepsmedia.com. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes