College cannabis courses expand Minnesota job opportunities

Minnesota is more than a year away from retail cannabis sales, but the industry is already adding jobs.

St. Paul College is joining St. Cloud State offering cannabis education — becoming the first community college to plant the seeds for lucrative careers. The courses are a lot like any other vocational training: you learn a skill that could help you land a higher-paying job.

But these jobs were illegal a year ago and a lot of them won’t start for another year.

Entering his late twenties, Andy Williams decided he needed a career change.

"I was in restaurants and I hated it," he said.

Williams is exactly the type of student who often enrolls at St. Paul College. 

"What typically we work with at the college is dislocated workers that are going through that sort of reentry process back into the job market," said St. Paul College program manager Brady Malecha.

The Las Vegas native picked up a cannabis education course in Nevada earlier this year and that same program is one of three launched last week at St. Paul College. The community college plans to let the program evolve in the next year as the state finalizes rules and regulations before licensing retail sales.

"We just see this as really being a step ahead of really knowing what the laws are going to be and how we can support that through training, get folks that leg up," Malecha said.

Minnesota is expected to see a job surge similar to Michigan’s, where 31,000 cannabis jobs sprouted after recreational use was legalized in 2018. But the jobs are often highly competitive.

"If you want to get hired, start a business, play a leadership role, and to get that level of experience, you either need to come from the cannabis industry or you need education," said Max Simon.

He's the CEO of Green Flower, which runs 50 cannabis education programs at colleges and universities across the country, including at St. Paul College and St. Cloud State. Students who pass the courses get priority placement on a job board used by a lot of cannabis businesses.

Williams says it helped him increase his income by about 50% right away, plus medical benefits.

"I've really hit the jackpot, you know, because of my education," he said. "It really keeps providing me new opportunities."

The three classes at St. Paul College opened last week and 20 students are already taking them.

People can enroll at any time at a cost of $750 per class.

The courses at St. Cloud State are more specialized, so they’re more expensive and take six months instead of nine weeks.