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Cannabis institutes aim to train workers, patients

Mickey Martin of the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis in Natick said there is a dire need to educate workers.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

Mickey Martin of the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis in Natick said there is a dire need to educate workers.

NATICK — The two-classroom training school nestled in an office park has yet to open. But school officials say they have had about 1,500 enrollment inquiries, some from as far away as Nepal, India, Spain, and Russia.

“People were asking ‘Do you have dorms?’ ” said administrator Cara Crabb-Burnham.

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Some might think it is a joke, but the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis, which will focus on training medical marijuana dispensary workers, is hoping for big business. Mickey Martin, founder of the training center, said he wants to be the “hub of the industry in New England.”

The institute isn’t the only such school of its kind in Massachusetts. The New England Grass Roots Institute in Quincy caters to medical marijuana patients and offers classes on cannabis political history and Massachusetts medical marijuana law. The Cannabis Career Institute, a national company, periodically offers “marijuana business” training sessions in Boston and Rhode Island.

And this could be just the beginning.

In the wake of Massachusetts voters 2012 approval of medical marijuana sales, the state has become one of the fastest-growing cannabis business markets in the country, Martin said, and there is a dire need to educate workers in the dispensaries and auxiliary businesses.

“What you have is people investing heavily into these businesses and going through a competitive application process — dealing with pages of regulations from the Department of Public Health, strict security protocols, strict handling protocols — there’s just not a lot of room for error,” said Martin, who has consulted for groups that have successfully secured permits for medical cannabis dispensaries.

‘The one thing about the . . . industry is that there is definitely a risk going in.’

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He said Massachusetts’ medical marijuana and decriminalization laws factored into his decision to found the Natick school. Martin predicts cannabis will become fully legal if supporters are able to get a referendum question on the ballot in 2016, and that his curriculum will evolve with the law. One possibility: teaching bartending-style classes if “cannabis bars” were to some day to open in the state.

Amanda Reiman, California policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group, said that as marijuana laws are changing, more cannabis training institutes are opening across the country. The schools help people who want to get involved in the industry become more professional, she said.

Reiman has given talks at the best-known cannabis institute — Oaksterdam University in California — and discovered that at least half of the students there were from outside states, many of which had not legalized medical marijuana. Her concern is whether attending one of these schools will make a difference in the job market.

“People think it’s somehow going to assure them a position in the industry, and it isn’t. . . . You really have to have a lot of experience in order to have a viable position.” she said.

The New England Grass Roots Institute opened in November 2012, and has a range of classes, such as the history and science of cannibis as well as patient caregiving and cooking with cannabis.

Michael Fitzgerald, cofounder of the institute, said their school is not occupational, but “patient centric,” and they tend to educate first-time medical marijuana users in their 40s and older.

The Northeastern Institute of Cannabis — which has no connection to Northeastern University — is planning to open Sept. 8. Martin said classroom furniture is expected to be delivered in the coming days, and they are putting the final artwork on textbooks.

NIC, as the school is known, has a business license to operate in Natick, and Martin said he is working to register with the state Division of Professional Licensure.

In many ways it is just like any other school. There will be a student lounge, monthly job fairs, and T-shirts with the school logo, which is of course, green. NIC has about 3,200 “likes” on its Facebook page.

The program costs $1,500 for 12 classes and is estimated to take a minimum of two to four weeks, but it could take longer depending on a student’s schedule. Students will study a range of topics including marijuana laws, cultivation, and ingestion methods, and be required to take an exam at the end of the program.

They will not have marijuana on site, but instead use videos or live chats with approved dispensaries.

Martin said NIC plans to share its office with a health and wellness clinic, consisting of physicians who will focus on alternative medicines, including medical marijuana.

Martin wants to “cater to grandma who just found out about marijuana” to help alleviate medical problems. He plans to offer a cheaper hour-long seminar, costing $50, for medical marijuana patients and caregivers who want to learn the basics of how to safely use the drug.

He also said the institute plans to host free courses for law enforcement officers on how to interact with medical marijuana patients and determine what a reasonable 60-day supply looks like. Approved patients in Massachusetts are allowed to use, possess, and grow up to a 60-day supply of the drug, which is defined as 10 ounces.

For Martin, working with law enforcement is crucial. In 2007, his marijuana edibles company in California was raided by federal agents, and Martin said he was on national news for owning a “pot candy factory.”

He said he was offered a plea deal, and spent a year in a halfway house, and another year wearing an ankle monitor.

“The risk is a lot lower these days than in the heyday, so we operate transparently and openly,” he said. “But that’s the one thing about the cannabis industry, is that there is definitely a risk going in.”

The Cannabis Career Institute has hosted about six day-long training classes in Boston within the past two years. Robert Calkin, president of the institute, said that anywhere from 20 to 100 people attend each seminar, which he described as “business 101 for cannabis.”

Martin hopes to eventually launch institutes in other regions.

“We’ve made a pretty hefty investment into what we believe will be a model for success nationwide,” Martin said.

Katherine Langergan can be reached at katherine.landergan@gmail.com
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