Cannabis 101 course isn't 'Cheech and Chong,' says Red River College: 'This is very serious stuff'

Cannabis 101, an eight-week course on the basics of weed, will start on Nov. 6 at Red River College in Winnipeg.

8-week course at Winnipeg college aims to cover the basics of weed, from cultivation to retail

Winnipeg's Red River College says its new cannabis course was developed in consultation with industry stakeholders and Manitoba's Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority, as well as doctors with expertise on the drug. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

A Winnipeg college is rolling out a new course on cannabis, which will get underway just after recreational marijuana use becomes legal in Canada.

Cannabis 101, an eight-week introductory course on the basics of weed, will start on Nov. 6 at Red River College. Two evenings a week, students will learn fundamentals on the plant itself and the laws around it, as well as safety and industry considerations, from retail to cultivation.

The course will begin less than a month after federal legislation making recreational cannabis use legal in Canada comes into effect on Oct. 17.

"This is a new industry, which requires a new skill set," said Rebecca Chartrand, executive director of Indigenous strategy at the college.

"Our job as a post-secondary institute is to make sure that we provide quality programs that will support growth into this industry."

The course was developed in consultation with industry stakeholders and Manitoba's Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority, as well as three doctors with expertise on the drug, Chartrand said.

Rebecca Chartrand, executive director of Indigenous strategy at Red River College, and Josh Giesbrecht, the school's cannabis project co-ordinator, worked to create the college's cannabis course. (Aidan Geary/CBC)

It might sound like a high time, but organizers say students should know the course will be hard work. Like any other course, it will include assignments and assessments. Students will be graded and earn a credit if they pass.

"You have to kind of, you know, sit them down and say, 'Look … this is a serious course,'" said Josh Giesbrecht, cannabis project co-ordinator at Red River College.

"This isn't … Cheech and Chong — this is very serious stuff."

First Nations involvement

Pot courses have cropped up at other colleges and universities across the country. National offerings include:

But Chartrand said Manitoba-based courses have something unique to offer students, due to strong First Nations leadership in the budding cannabis industry here.

In Manitoba, six First Nations are making moves into the cannabis industry.

Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Long Plain First Nation, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Peguis First Nation are partnering with National Access Cannabis.

Fisher River Cree Nation of Manitoba is part of a team including U.S.-based retailer Native Roots Dispensary.

"For me, it's really important that we support those First Nation communities that are looking to grow into the industry," said Chartrand, who is Anishinaabe and Métis from Pine Creek First Nation, Man. (Treaty 4 territory).

The course is being offered through Red River's School of Indigenous Education, after a pair of First Nations communities inquired about what the college had planned prior to legalization, said Chartrand. 

In response to their queries, Chartrand said the school organized a consultation meeting in July with industry stakeholders, doctors and other First Nations that led to the creation of the new course.

Cannabis plants are photographed during the grand opening event for the CannTrust Niagara Greenhouse Facility in Fenwick, Ont., on June 26, 2018. Dr. Shelley Turner will teach students at Red River College about the plant in a new course this fall. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

The course will be taught by Dr. Shelley Turner, who is from Cross Lake First Nation (Treaty 5 territory) and also serves as the chief medical officer of Saskatchewan-based producer OneLeaf Cannabis.

Giesbrecht, who is part of Roseau River First Nation (Treaty 1 territory) added the course is for everyone — not just people who want to work in the industry.

"I think if you're interested in just knowing about it, period — because there's a lot of curious people right now, and concerned people — it's worth taking," he said.

"And then if you want a career in this one day — whether it's in cultivation or in retail, or you don't even know but you want to be involved — it's also worth your time to take."

Spokespeople from Brandon University and University of Winnipeg told CBC News the schools don't have any cannabis courses on offer.

Hope for more courses in future

Alongside the course, the college is offering a one-day conference on the drug on Oct. 19, including panels with health-care professionals, industry and regulatory representatives, and Indigenous leaders.

"I think people are just hungry for this," Chartrand said.

The college is also considering developing additional courses, she added, on topics ranging from retail and being a "budtender" to research on the drug's impact. It's also working toward being able to offer the course online for students in other communities.

With its first course, the college is, in part, seeking to balance out decades of limited information or misinformation about cannabis, or information that focused exclusively on the dangers of the drug, Chartrand said.

Giesbrecht said his initial goal for the course is to ensure the students who take it feel they've gotten something out of it. He's also hoping to see a diverse group of people in the classes.

"I think that, to me, would be a success."