An Ohio nonprofit organization providing services for formerly incarcerated people has teamed up with a medical marijuana cultivator to develop a cannabis jobs training program for individuals with past marijuana convictions.
Dubbed URC Grows, the collaboration between United Returning Citizens and Youngstown, Ohio licensed growing operation Riviera Creek Holdings LLC aims to pair past cannabis offenders with industry jobs in the state’s legal cannabis market.
“This program will give [the past offenders] an opportunity to get back into the workforce,” Brian Kessler, chairman of Riviera Creek Holdings, told The Business Journal.
The new jobs program will be open to those with prior marijuana-related offenses including cannabis possession, sales or cultivation on their records. Dionne Dowdy, executive director of United Returning Citizens (URC), told a local television news team that URC Grows is an attempt to address the harms caused by the failed War on Drugs while ensuring that the economic benefits of legal cannabis are shared with the most impacted communities.
“There were so many people that were jailed by this and now that everyone is making money off something that they are already sitting in jail for, we want to give them an opportunity. Everyone needs a second chance and these are the things that they can do that [are] just natural to them, that they will thrive in, so why not give them this opportunity,” Dowdy said.
Dowdy added that she has already signed up two prior cannabis offenders for what she hopes will be an initial class of 10 students. Graduates of the cannabis job training program will be prepared to work in Ohio’s growing medical industry, which currently serves approximately 200,000 registered patients.
“We already have a problem with workforce now but if we’re taking the next people that are coming and we’re training them and giving them an opportunity; to have a job, to have a career, to take care of their family, not only would it help them – it would help our city, it would help our community, it will help with the crime,” Dowdy said.
Developing Cannabis Entrepreneurs
URC Grows will provide cannabis education and job training in three focused areas, with a certificate of completion awarded upon graduation from the program. Areas of study include: an agriculture program concentrating on hydroponics and aquaponics; an industrial hemp program designed to teach prospective farmers how to grow, process and sell hemp for fiber, grain, or CBD. The third track, a marijuana program, will provide education on cultivating medical-grade cannabis.
After completion of the first phase of focused education, students will begin a second phase that includes entrepreneur and business development training. This means, assistance with developing a business plan and the filing of required business documentation. Those who complete the initial two phases of training will be offered a job or internship with Riviera Creek Holdings or the opportunity to maintain and grow a hemp crop for their own hemp-based business. To support the program, URC has received a grant from the Hawthorne Social Justice Fund to help students buy land or cover the startup costs of their business.
“We at Riviera are intending to help build the overall course work, what it looks like and as they graduate, Riviera is intending to bring some of those in-house so they wind up with jobs right after graduation and we’re excited for that program to begin,” said Daniel Kessler, COO of Riviera Creek Holdings.
More Jobs Would Come with Adult-Use Legalization
Although Ohio’s cannabis industry is currently limited to serving medical marijuana patients, legislators and activists are currently working to legalize cannabis for all adults. In July, two Democratic state representatives from the Cleveland area introduced legislation that would legalize, tax and regulate adult-use cannabis. A separate effort by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was given approval to begin circulating petitions by state officials last month.
“It’s at the phase where it needs signatures,” said Daniel Kessler, who supports the effort to legalize recreational cannabis. “The goal is to approve adult use over the age of 21.”
Daniel Kessler said that Riviera Creek Holdings supports legal cannabis for adults as a way to replace the current system that forces consumers to accept untested and potentially unsafe cannabis while illicit cannabis operators face the threat of imprisonment.
“All of that becomes problematic for everybody,” he said. “If we can replace that with something that generates tax dollars for the state, controlled by the legislative body, works much like the medical program, and has social justice aspects to it – it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”