Starting in January 2023, the Office of Cannabis Management of the state of New York launched a new program debuted as the Cannabis Compliance Training and Mentorship Program (CCTM). The 10-week course of webinars was aimed at providing legacy operators, understood to be participants in the illicit market prior to legalization in 2021, with the skills and information necessary to stay up to date on all the laws and regulations.



Cannabis Compliance Training & Mentorship Program (CCTM)

Applications for the free CCTM course closed on November 3, 2022. To be eligible, applicants had to have a valid, government-issued photo identification, be at least 18 years old, and have advanced farming, horticulture, or cultivation experience, as well as experience with processing, packaging, branding, or manufacturing products for human consumption.

This could mean applicants were either employed in, managed, or owned a farming business or participated in a farming apprenticeship or incubator program, or held a two or four-year degree in Horticulture, Agriculture, or a relevant field of study. Manufacturing experience could include employment or management in a food and beverage processing establishment or a two or four-year degree in a relevant field of study.

Many legacy growers were skeptical of the opportunity, and having lived for decades under the radar and dodging the legal system, they had their doubts about participating willingly. Although others looked at the opportunity of a 10-week state program to prepare them to meet compliance standards and provide an inside track to secure a license in the new legal market in New York.

The Role of the CCTM Program in Licensing

Many states with cannabis legalization still lose revenue to the illicit markets, and this program is an attempt by New York to bring underground growers into a sanctioned marketplace. One goal was to convince a thriving industry that has long been distrustful of government and law enforcement to embrace the new regulations.

Applicants were identified by a number instead of their name to ensure anonymity and were promised that all application documents would be deleted at the conclusion of the 10-week program. For many legacy growers who applied for the new training and mentorship program, there was still some frustration as it was unclear if it would improve their chances of obtaining a legal license.

As one grower stated, this is a way of life for them, and they have relied on growing cannabis and providing people with the healing powers of the plant to support their families. For many, it is more than just a hobby. As this grower and many others feel, if not ushered into the legal market, they will continue to grow and perfect their craft under the radar.

One challenge facing all legacy growers is the amount of startup capital required to get licensed in the new market. This is a worry for lawmakers as they realize what it takes to get launched and how frustrating that can be for some who could quickly fall back into the illicit market.

One goal of New York’s CCTM program was to ensure that legacy growers understand the scale involved with going legal and the regulations for running the business side of the legal market as well as safety testing for consumers. State officials encouraged legacy operators to enroll in the mentorship program to help them understand the entire supply chain between growers and processors and what it takes to convert the cannabis plant into edibles and other products such as topicals, oils, and ointments.

Valuable Biweekly Mentorship Classes

The 10-week course consisted of seasoned growers meeting twice per week for 1 ½ hour-long classes where they learned various components of the legal market, such as compliance requirements, incorporating cannabis operations, and the tax structure. Each participant was paired with a mentor who was either a grower or a processor that already held a license. Only 242 New Yorker’s of the 600 that applied were admitted into the course, with an estimated 136 applicants from the legacy market.

State authorities partnered with Cornell University and the State University of New York to create the mentorship program, with costs reaching over $75,000 to provide computer servers, course material from their agricultural programs, and input from professors along with hosting the online course. Mentors were available to answer participant questions about what it takes to join the industry.

There are no plans to repeat this particular course as regulators plan to reap the best practices, taking lessons learned to create similar programs in the future.

Kudos to New York for taking strides to break the stigma and treat seasoned growers with the respect of experienced horticulturists and offering them a chance to speak one-on-one with legal participants. Here’s to hoping that classes like this take hold across the country to bring expert growers out of hiding and into the light to share in the benefits of the legal market that continues to crop up state-by-state.

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