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Bringing Cannabis To The Classroom: Seattle Central College Creates the State’s First Cannabis Institute



Trey Reckling moved to Washington with the intent of becoming involved in the state’s emerging cannabis industry. He had 20 years of experience in higher education, but much of his experience with marijuana was through “self-directed study.”

Today, he’s an instructor at Seattle Central College and one of the chief architects behind the school’s Cannabis Institute, a new but booming continuing education program preparing students for careers in a new but booming industry.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity to step things up and give the industry what it needs,” he explains. “No other industry is so young, so lacking in infrastructure.”

To that end, Reckling partnered with Seattle Central’s interim Director for Continuing Education Lisa Babinec in January 2016 to develop a single in-person essentials course on cannabis. The continuing education program already included courses on liquor distillation and winemaking, so another focused on cannabis only made sense.

Reckling and Babinec pieced the curriculum together from dozens of existing sources, attending listening sessions, speaking with healthcare professionals and patients, and identifying additional cannabis instructors to ensure their class was as up-to-date and all-encompassing as possible.

“We want to talk full-spectrum, and give our students everything,” says Reckling. “We need to recognize all the rewards and the risks, even if they’re minimal compared to other pharmaceuticals or how it’s been portrayed in the past.”

Cannabis Classroom

Cannabis in the Classroom

The result of all their research was the 20-hour medical marijuana consultant certificate program, the flagship course of the Cannabis Institute and the first cannabis-centric course to be approved by the Washington State Department of Health.

The class is split into six modules, each based on a learning outcome determined by the Department of Health and focusing on a single facet of cannabis law and use. The instruction is now conducted entirely online, permitting students to do the required readings and take the accompanying quizzes for each module at their own pace. The final grade is an accumulation of the students’ quiz scores, and must be at least 70% in order to pass.

Reckling and the other instructors are available to answer questions for two-hour blocks each week, while students can conduct their own discussions about the subject matter using the online platform CANVAS. Reckling sees these interactive portions of the course as especially important in training medical consultants that are not just knowledgeable, but personable as well.

“We talk a lot about listening skills and developing empathy, because you can understand the condition on paper, but if you can’t listen to your customer and how it’s affecting him or her on a daily basis, it’s easy to assume and get things wrong,” he says.

Since it was introduced last spring, nearly 500 students have enrolled in the certification course, already making it one of the most popular continuing education classes in Seattle Central’s history.

Many of the students are already retail employees working in the cannabis industry, enrolling on their own or at the behest of their employers to bolster their credentials. Others are just personally interested in the medical benefits of marijuana and eager to become involved in the industry in some capacity, much as Reckling was two years ago.

“People enroll from all over, and since we’re online it’s easy to deliver to them,” he says. “We’ve had lawyers, nurses, salespeople and graphic designers, who aren’t going to be the retail point of contact, but just want to be knowledgeable about what they do.”

The course content has even made an impact on local retail shops. While developing the curriculum, Reckling and Babinec heard from the American Cannabis Nurses Association about the effectiveness of dosing journals wherein patients can record their cannabis intake and the effects. Since the consultant course started recommending dosing journals, some Seattle retailers have created their own branded dosing journals to give to new patients.

“With cannabis, we’re never going to stop learning…”

In the fall of 2016, thanks to the success of the initial consultant course, the Cannabis Institute began in earnest, offering students the chance to continue their cannabis education with shorter classes focused on more specialized topics. These include classes on qualifying conditions, pain management, and the science and folklore surrounding individual strains.

“With cannabis, we’re never going to stop learning,” Reckling says. “It’s very much like being in tech right now, because information is going to keep increasing at an accelerated rate.”

As I speak with Reckling, he’s already preparing to introduce two new classes—one on the promises and pitfalls of cannabis, and another about its effect on pets—heading into the spring 2017 semester, his third training the consultants that become key points of reference for medical marijuana patients.

“Everyone wants to talk about the billions the industry could make,” he says, “but what’s exciting to me is that patients are improving their lives daily. So for us to be able to train the people on the frontline helping those patients—I just couldn’t think of a better way to be involved.”

Other Higher Education Programs Around the Country:

  • “Marijuana Policy in the 21st Century” course at Oregon State University
  • “Cannabis Journalism” at Denver University
  • “Business and Law of Marijuana” at Hofstra University
  • “Marijuana Law and Policy” at Vanderbilt Law School
  • All courses at Clover Leaf University
  • All courses at Oaksterdam University


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