TOLEDO (WTOL) - In the 1930′s, the American public was being told with news articles and propaganda movies like ‘Reefer Madness’ that marijuana was the “devil’s weed”, ruining our children’s lives and setting teenagers off on maniacal killing sprees.
By the 1960′s and 70′s, as pot survived the bad press, it became a symbol of the new counterculture. Its use was in vogue, albeit illegal in most states, and efforts to demonize it in pop culture were dismissed by a new generation who made its consumption a topic of humor and recreation.
But fast forward 40 years, and marijuana delivers not just a dose of mirth, but a dose of medicine.
Medical marijuana has become legal in most states and in January, legalized sales began in Ohio. Michigan will roll out legal recreational pot use by fall of 2020. The momentum is moving in favor of a marijuana future in the United States and Canada, whether to relieve pain, or relieve stress. What all of this means is that marijuana is becoming a serious business and big business.
Revenues in Ohio in just the first six weeks of sales with only a handful of stores open already exceeds a million dollars. Every week thousands of new "patients" apply for, and receive a card from the state allowing them to buy the legal pot which in Ohio they can't smoke, but can only "vape"(vaporized in steam heat) or use in edibles.
This new phenomenon in Ohio and elsewhere has generated all kinds of questions about its use, its dangers, its restrictions and health benefits, but it is also generating jobs. Thousands of them that can pay professional level salaries, depending on the position.
Hocking College in Southern Ohio, a school which specializes in career training, is the first college in the nation to offer a two year Associates Degree in cannabis lab technology.
"There is a serious shortage of lab techs" says Dr. Jonathon Cachat, who runs the program at Hocking.
The field of Cannabis testing is in such high demand and so specialized that Hocking sees an industry need they can fill.
"We’ve already had labs contact us from Colorado asking if we have lab techs that have already graduated,” Dr. Cachat said.
They do not because the program is just getting underway this year. And Doctor Cachat says they will have no shortage of applicants as school has been fielding hundreds of calls already from prospective student candidates.
Contrary to what some may think, these jobs are not for the "stoner” types who are heavy users and have taken up the lifestyle. These are serious and responsible positions in a tightly controlled environment and the lab tech training requires background in math and analytical chemistry. Starting salaries for such positions can range from $40,000 to $60,000 a year, or maybe more.
Dr. Betty Young, the President of Hocking College, says these jobs and this training can be useful in and out of the cannabis industry.
“There are definitely not dead end jobs, this is an open door for many great jobs,” Dr. Young said.
In conjunction with its training program, Hocking is also operating one of the state’s first marijuana testing labs in Ohio. It is a high-end lab where the cannabis grown by cultivators in Ohio will send their samples to have them tested for toxins, fertilizers, pesticides or any other substances that shouldn’t be in the plant material. The lab also does testing for potency on the various strains.
The Lab is located off-campus and in a highly secure building where students will not have access. The students in lab tech training will have hands-on classes in a similar lab nearby, but will not handle the actual marijuana product.
Hocking is also looking to the future to determine if there may be other educational opportunities they can offer.
“When this new industry starts emerging, we look at that from the stand point of what are the job opportunities,” said Dr. Young.
And there are many. Other positions in the industry run the gamut. The cultivation centers are in need of technicians to work in the greenhouses or grow-center environments, while processing centers will require extraction technicians and chemists who can extract the right chemicals from the plants that are infused into foods, candies, oils, lotions and other products.
Some of these positions in this new green leaf economy can pay in excess of $100,000 a year, especially for management positions in the labs, greenhouses and retail stores.
Robin Morris runs the Mary Jane Agency in Sandusky and offers career counseling and placement in the marijuana industry. She says the opportunities are often misunderstood.
“Many people think you have to touch the plant. You don’t," said Morris. "You can do whatever you want or you are good at and still work in the industry.”
She says like any corporate environment, the cannabis industry offers all types of jobs, from management, public relations, administration, lawyers, drivers, accountants and security. Morris says she is also working to open a training center for jobs in the production and sales area including that of “bud tenders”.
"They are the people who know how to educate you on what is the best strain for yourself,” Morris said.
A recent check of several online job boards for Ohio and Michigan revealed a variety of job opening in the industry, numbering more than 150. Some of the job titles included: extraction technician, security specialist, cannabis driver, cultivation manager, post-harvest technician, Lab manager, copywriter, accountant, physician and marketing manager.
Kara Lambert is the marketing manager for Ohio marijuana company Standard Wellness which runs a cultivation center, processing center and dispensary. She says she got into the industry because she wanted so do “something that will make a difference”. She’s says she is passionate about medical marijuana and really believes in its health benefits.
Lambert is among many involved in the industry who are not just motivated by money, but by their belief in marijuana’s medical value. Dr. Cachat, a neuroscientist by training and experience, says research shows that “cannabinoids are some of the most potent and safest neuro-protectants on the planet” and he feels strongly that medical marijuana is a technology that is an effective treatment for a variety of maladies.
Millions of patients, thousands in Ohio would agree.
So, in 2019, this once vilified weed, is now becoming a mainstream cash crop in our society. Its benefits, economic potential and promise of serious jobs may soon send its stigma and stereotype up in smoke.