By Patrick Wagner
When Trey Reckling moved to Seattle, he thought he was leaving behind a career in education to join the cannabis industry. In the back of his mind, he wondered what future employers might think about hiring somebody with marijuana on their resume.
Reckling had spent 15 years at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where he worked in student development and conflict resolution, before moving with his husband to the Pacific Northwest in 2014.
To his surprise, his career in education was far from over. He initially began teaching a course at the University of Washington on the essentials of cannabis handling. Not long after, the state began a highly controversial overhaul of medical marijuana regulations that would require dispensaries to be licensed by the state.
Among the many changes implemented for dispensaries and patients, medical marijuana budtenders are now required to complete a state-certified training program. According to rules set forth by the state Department of Health, marijuana retail stores with medical endorsements must have at least one certified “medical marijuana consultant” on staff at all times.
Reckling, who runs the Academy of Cannabis Science, began preparing a proposal for an online certification program that would meet the state requirements for medical marijuana training courses. He reached out to Lisa Babinec, who is now the director of Seattle Central College’s continuing education program, about establishing a partnership with the school.
Reckling praises Babinec for her willingness to host the program at an accredited school.
“Her bravery in all of this can’t be understated,” Reckling says. “She’s been a tiger for us.”
Reckling says he was lucky to connect with Seattle Central for the program because the school has the willingness and infrastructure to handle such a program.
“Nothing falls through the cracks, and to me there’s the joy of studying at an accredited institution,” Reckling says. “You’re not off studying in the dark somewhere.”
Reckling also teaches a class in cannabis foundations through Seattle Central, for people who want to learn about the chemistry, history and medical applications of marijuana. The four-hour class is designed as an introduction for medical marijuana patients, prospective investors and employees of various cannabis businesses.
Seattle Central had already been running a distillation program where students learn about producing spirits. Reckling praises Seattle Central for recognizing the need to train students for careers, rather than just providing a novelty education.
Reckling designed the medical marijuana consultant certification program with an emphasis on student dialogue and interactions with himself and other professional lecturers. The 20-hour online course allows students to complete required lessons and examinations at their own pace within the allotted two-week time frame.
Reckling also lines up lectures from local experts, including Nicole Li, a health care and cannabis lawyer, Dr. Jake Felice, a naturopath, and Miles Jonard, head grower of Solstice.
The coursework isn’t just designed to prepare students for a test, Reckling says.
“We try to get real, practical applications.”
The program launches at a tumultuous time for medical marijuana in Washington. For years, Washington’s medical dispensaries operated without licenses and little in the way of regulations. In an effort to merge the medical and recreational sectors, lawmakers approved the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, outlawing unlicensed dispensaries as of July 1. The legislation sparked outcry from medical cannabis activists throughout the state, but it’s unclear if existing unlicensed dispensaries will be given extensions. As of mid-June, there were about 260 marijuana retail stores that had received medical endorsements.
To account for the additional needs of medical patients, the state expanded the cap on marijuana retail stores by 222, bringing the new total to 556. As of mid-June, there were less than 320 retail stores listed as active, according to Liquor and Cannabis Board records.
Reckling hopes training budtenders for medical consultations will help quell the fears of patients who have watched collective gardens and unlicensed medical dispensaries be deemed illegal.
“Some patients are scared because they are losing the place where they’ve always gone,” he says. “They’re losing their home base and all the people who used to work with them. Some places are lucky and they will get licensed, but others have to make a new contact and find new people to trust.”
The medical marijuana training program syllabus has four peer-reviewed articles as required reading, and the six modules covered during the course pull from more than 80 journals, periodicals and documentaries, as well as statements and requirements from the Department of Health. Students begin the course with simple lessons in CBD, chronic pain and the history of marijuana in the United States, before moving on to more complex subjects like pharmacology, addiction and identifying qualifying conditions.
The Seattle Central course is one of two state-approved training programs for medical marijuana consultants. The other is through NGR Enterprises, which offers an on-site certification program, as opposed to Reckling’s online course.