The Responsible Vendor Training Program is the first of its kind to be mandated by a state cannabis regulatory agency. It is designed to help licensed marijuana businesses comply with state regulations and enhance customer and employee safety, the Cannabis Control Commission said when it began accepting applications in July. It’s similar to ServSafe training for restaurant and bar employees.
The commission voted on the two-year Responsible Vendor licenses at a public meeting at Western New England University.
Shawn Collins, the commission’s executive director, and director of research Dr. Julie Johnson said they received 12 applications, four of which they recommended for approval. The other eight applicants received emails yesterday requesting further documentation.
“These Responsible Vendor trainers may not be affiliated with applicants or licensees as well. There needs to be a distinction between them,” Collins said.
The companies approved by the commission are Quality Control Analytics in Assonet, Stoker Consulting LLC in Lexington, Anthony Bartucca of Wrentham and Cannabis Trainers of Colorado. Each company has a proposed training program that ranges between two and five hours, concluding with an online test.
Currently, employees of marijuana companies are required to get training, but it does not have to be from a commission-approved company. As of Jan. 1, all dispensaries operating in the state will require training from a commission-approved trainer, Collins added.
Mary Hull of Monson was one of the applicants who was not approved. She said she left her job as the manager of a convenience store two years ago due to health problems and decided to start the company Mass Responsible Vendor Training. She said she took part in years of training to prepare her curriculum so that it complied with the commission’s regulations.
The commission’s social equity program gives opportunities to individuals and business in 29 communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for cannabis and other drug crimes. But while the program applies to proposed retail stores and other marijuana businesses, it does not apply to training companies.
Monson is one of the 29 social equity communities. Others in that category in Western Massachusetts are Amherst, Greenfield, Holyoke, Pittsfield, Springfield and West Springfield.
“I’m very frustrated by their decision,” Hull said in an interview. “I have been trying to get the commission to place the vendor training under that canopy of social equity programs. … There’s no industry out there for people with no money.”
Of the four approved trainers, none are based in a social equity community, and one trainer is from out of state. Johnson said she believed there were two out-of-state applicants and 10 in-state applicants.
Commissioner Steven Hoffman said the commission is looking for the most qualified applicants.
“We wanted the best vendors in the program,” he said. The Colorado company, Cannabis Trainers, has been in operation since 2014, he said.
“What’s most important to us is that we want informed, responsible consumers,” Hoffman said. “Therefore we want the employees of the establishments to be able to give accurate and complete information to the consumers so they can make informed choices.”
Commissioner Shaleen Title questioned whether priority should be given to trainer applicants who fit into the commission’s social equity program.
“I got several emails from veteran-owned businesses and social equity program participants who had applied and were disappointed,” she said. “It looks like if they did apply they still have a chance in the next round, but I wanted to raise for consideration if we might consider giving expedited review to those same categories that have expedited review for our licenses.”
Collins said the process for reviewing the applications is different for training programs.
“It’s dissimilar from our licensing in that it generally has one person in it at any time, whereas this is more of a collaborative approach,” he said.
He proposed staffing a position that would focus solely on vetting applicants for training programs.
“The materials included are vast, and having a variety of folks from across the commission involved in the review of those materials is imperative, but having one person accountable for the coordination of that effort is also imperative so that these things do not fall through the cracks,” he said.
Cannabis Trainers is the developer of the first state-approved cannabis vendor training, Sell-Smart. Hull said the large company will monopolize the industry and make it difficult for smaller local businesses to compete.
“They have already been approved and are offering training as soon as the end of this month. Once a company works with them they will use them again and again for recertification and smaller businesses won’t stand a chance,” she said.
Collins and Johnson said they are not sure how many trainers will be needed throughout the state, but there will be other opportunities to apply.