Online course teaches skills needed to work in Vegas' cannabis industry

Nov. 15, 2022
The course includes everything from compliance to mapping out retail in a cannabis dispensary

Nov. 14—After starting a cannabis industry-focused staffing company in 2018, Christi McAdams determined that there often wasn't a clear enough path for interested potential workers to break into the industry.

So she created one.

McAdams, a part-time Las Vegas resident, runs a program called Cannabis Community College, which offers those interested in joining the cannabis industry an online avenue to learn the necessary skills to work an array of jobs.

A five-course "essentials" package costs $270 and requires a reliable internet connection, along with a desire to work in a field that's growing larger by the year.

Scholarships and payment plans are available to help with the cost.

The idea took off for McAdams when she began having to train staffing service candidates online following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

"We had to find alternative ways to train people," McAdams said. "Back then was actually my introduction to being on Zoom, and it was one of those aha! moments, when I realized that I didn't have to be live and in-person teaching this stuff."

The main courses are automated, McAdams said. Once students pay, they receive login information and can start taking courses immediately.

The time required for the essential courses—covering state compliance certification, cultivation, production and dispensary service education—is about 12 hours.

As of October, more than 800 people have completed Cannabis Community College coursework and have been placed in industry jobs across the country, many in Nevada.

The program employs 10 full-time educators, along with additional contracted teachers.

"Initially, my thought process was to build up my own staff, so I'd have a competitive advantage for my staffing business," McAdams said. "Really, I was just doing this for my own employees. I found that people who had nothing to do with my businesses started to take the courses."

That's when she realized the program might be able to stand on its own as a business.

"Employers want to know that applicants are invested in the job, and it can be tough to break into the [cannabis] industry," McAdams said. "How do you show that [you're invested]? Well, you go get your own background check and state certification and education. With this program, people can prove that they have the desire to work in the field."

McAdams, 45, got her start in the business world by helping run a nightclub in Kansas at age 18.

She later founded a liquor distribution company and has also done work in the real estate industry.

In 2008, McAdams moved to Las Vegas for a different venture, but decided a few years later—on the advice of her father—to get involved with the cannabis industry.

She would go on to become involved in a Nevada cannabis production lab and a distribution company before starting her staffing service firm.

Through her connections with the college and beyond, McAdams also launched a networking pipeline, which she hopes will help lead to Cannabis Community College coursework being translated into other languages.

Brenda Gunsallus, who helps run Sahara Wellness dispensary, has taught the dispensary course within the college since last year.

She met McAdams at a cannabis networking event in 2015.

With cannabis products becoming more legal in different parts of the country—nearly 40 states now, in some form or another—Gunsallus said there will continue to be a demand for knowledgeable workers.

As part of her course, Gunsallus educates students on customer service and inventory, security and even how to spot counterfeit bills—remember, it's a cash-only industry.

"With all the states coming online, a program like what Christi has put together is needed," Gunsallus said. "Young people tend to get in the industry without a ton of experience. With my course, it's really an overview on what to expect when working in a dispensary as a budtender."

McAdams said that since there aren't many cannabis bachelor's degree programs available yet, her program can—and has—filled a void.

"In years past, people used to have to go to traditional colleges and spend tens of thousands of dollars while spending years of their life in order to get a decent job," McAdams said. "Now, getting into the cannabis industry can be as easy as taking a few steps to make sure they're genuinely interested in the industry. And the industry is growing so fast, the sky is the limit for people."

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