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SRJC prepares students for blooming cannabis businesses

Simon Isaksson, Executive Editor & Co-News Editor

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Already known for producing world-class wines, local politicians and entrepreneurs now hope to make Sonoma County world famous for cannabis.

California legalized cannabis for medicinal use in 1996 and for recreational use in November 2016. Now, any person 21 or older in California can grow six cannabis plants within a private home, possess up to one ounce (unless on school ground, day care center or a place where children gather) and use unless in public or driving. People without medical cards will have to wait until next year to purchase cannabis products in dispensaries, as the California Bureau of Marijuana Control will not provide licenses to sell recreationally until January 2018.

With a booming cannabis industry in proximity of Santa Rosa Junior College, instructors are now exploring opportunities to build students’ knowledge and skills for a future in the business.

“It is essential that we prepare our students for all kinds of careers, especially localized careers for those who want to stay where they have been educated,” said Roy Gattinella, SRJC marketing instructor and business department chair. “Anything that would touch on the cannabis industry and support careers is a service to our students. We need to teach and recognize that it is real, and that it offers potential professional employment. It is irresponsible to do otherwise.”

Gattinella already incorporates information about the cannabis industry in the business and marketing classes he teaches.

“I tend to use examples in my classes that are relevant to the local economy, and one of the things here is cannabis,” Gattinella said. “I would not do my job as a marketing instructor if I did not include it, so I have contextualized interesting cannabis projects and products into the curriculum over the last few years. I think it is essential that we recognize innovation, creativity and differentiation in all economic industries.”

Cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, but Gattinella thinks it is more important for SRJC to prepare students with successful careers in the local community as opposed to following federal guidelines.

“SRJC has taken brave positions before that are very unpopular with the federal government, like when it comes to immigration and transgender rights. I think cannabis needs a similar brave approach,” Gattinella said. “If we looked to the federal government for our curriculum, we would be teaching oil drilling in national parks, coal mining, how to get fossil fuels out of the ground and take all our climate change information out of our textbooks. If we listened to the federal government, we would prepare our students for jobs in the 1800s.”

The mechanisms for cannabis-oriented classes already exist at SRJC, according to Gattinella. He believes the school will offer a program in the future.

“We understand how to grow plants very well at Shone Farm. We have labs and everything in place,” Gattinella said. “The transition would be as simple as writing curriculum, which I hope we do soon. If we don’t, it would be as if Detroit turned its back on the auto industry.”

Mary Kay Rudolph, SRJC senior vice president of academic affairs and assistant superintendent, does not believe any California community college will offer classes in cannabis for at least one year.

It is a long process to create a curriculum and to get it approved on both a local and state level,” Rudolph said. “The efforts can come from the ground up, for example from students, our advisory committees or the local industries, but it can also come from the state level, where they can request a new curriculum. They recently did that with drones and beer production, but this has not happened yet with cannabis.”

SRJC is waiting to see where the cannabis industry goes, according to Rudolph. She recommends that students interested in the industry take current classes at SRJC that correspond with the needs of the market.

We provide theoretical and practical training for students to be successful in agriculture, farming and sustainability,” Rudolph said. “Whether you will sell mopeds, puppies or pot, we have classes in entrepreneurship, business marketing and bookkeeping which will give you applicable knowledge to be successful in whatever you choose to grow, market or distribute.”

Rudolph does not want SRJC to do anything that can risk the school’s federal funding for its many programs, such as Pell Grants, Meta4 (which includes Mi Casa), TRIO grants for health care careers in health sciences and MESA.

“If we approach a cannabis-oriented program and a situation arises where the federal government says it will take our funding away, we would have to look at the potential risks and benefits,” she said. “A cannabis program could add maybe 30-100 students a year, but if you compare that to federal funding, which helps thousands of students, it is a pretty easy choice.”

When it comes to internship opportunities within the cannabis industry, SRJC Internship Coordinator Lauralyn Larsen says she will provide help.

“I will prepare any student who comes to me wanting an internship within his or her major by giving job seeking advice and guidance,” Larsen said. “In the past I helped one student who wanted to own his own cannabis business by encourage him to take entrepreneurial courses.”

Larsen says she would talk to any California licensed cannabis business with job opportunities about posting offers on the student employment board.

“I have heard that the [cannabis] industry will grow and job opportunities expand, so I think the interest among students will grow as well,” Larsen said. “But I have not had any cannabis industry companies list an internship so far.”

Evelyn Navarro, SRJC student government assembly president-elect, has no plans to lead an effort to hold informational meetings about cannabis and its new career opportunities in Sonoma County when she takes office at the end of May.

“But it would be ignorant to ignore the cannabis industry,” Navarro said. “I will leave the door open for other students who are more educated on this than I am to organize panels or seminars to educate our student population in a reasonable and responsible manner on something that is in our faces right now.”

Navarro thinks one good panel could be about students’ rights under the new cannabis laws and regulations.

“Although cannabis is a touchy subject, it would benefit our student population if we informed them on the issue,” she said. “It should not be a stigma. It is a growing industry in which students can get jobs, so educational classes would be good.”

Prescription drugs, such as medical cannabis prescribed by a doctor, are allowed on campus, according to SRJC’s official standpoint, as explained by Rudolph. However, when it comes to usage, it depends on what category the cannabis goes under. Smoking in any form remains illegal on campus. SRJC also has a zero tolerance for being under the influence of anything that can disturb colleagues or classmates or interfere with anyone’s ability to teach or learn. SGA President-elect Navarro urges students to follow campus regulations.

“Our campus is a safe haven. Some people are in recovery or are allergic so don’t use the substance itself on campus,” she said. “It would be disrespectful to other students.”

In the June 6 Santa Rosa city special election, voters will decide if Santa Rosa should follow more than 40 other cities and counties in California to enact a local tax on medical and recreational cannabis businesses operating within the city’s borders. The measure, called Measure D, has unanimous support from the Santa Rosa City Council.

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SRJC prepares students for blooming cannabis businesses