A few years ago, you might hear the name Herbal Risings Cannabis College and picture students in beanies and tie-dye T-shirts fighting over the last bag of Doritos. A class called “Budtending 101” might get a few wisecracks.
How quickly things change: When Chad Olshavsky moved to Arizona with his wife in 2012, they founded a training program that was rigorous and professional. Olshavsky wants to groom dispensary agents with medical knowledge, just like your neighborhood pharmacist.
“I was training as a dispensary agent in California,” Olshavsky recalls. “When I came to Phoenix, I ran into a group of people looking to start a dispensary here. I started helping them, and I realized there was a real need for training. Nobody in the state really understood the medical aspect.”
Medical marijuana (MMJ) has been legal in Arizona since 2010, but Prop 203 passed by a narrow margin and remains controversial.
In many ways, Olshavsky is an unlikely dean of a cannabis college: He grew up in Oklahoma, where he met his wife April. He worked in real estate, earned a pilot’s license, and studied mixed martial arts. When he discovered a love of screenwriting, his family relocated to Los Angeles. One of his scripts, a feature-length “stoner comedy,” as he describes it, was optioned but never produced. Indie director Kevin Smith had agreed to make a cameo.
Olshavsky is an open and friendly conversationalist, but he’s also very serious about his work. To survive in California, he studied “budtending,” the accepted term in the dispensary trade. When his film ended up in production limbo, the Olshavskys decided to move back to Phoenix, where they had lived before. While his screenwriting ambitions had stalled, he left California with an invaluable skill.
“I really feel that that state has it figured out, as far as patient-to-patient care,” Olshavsky says of California dispensaries. He has traveled to different states and found that many MMJ practitioners can be cliquey and tight-lipped. He appreciated the candor and expertise of California’s MMJ professionals.
When Olshavsky decided to start Herbal Risings in Phoenix, he started with online courses, but the demand was higher than he expected.
“I saw there was a real need for live classes,” he says. Herbal Risings started hosting face-to-face workshops in February.
Herbal Risings’ next workshop on September 10 is not taught by Cheech or Chong, but a massage therapist and yoga instructor named Lisa Francine. The course, “Dispensary Agent Readiness Certificate,” introduces students to “patient ailments and care recommendations, customer service skills, essentials of etiquette and industry regulations.” Francine maintains a blog about holistic medicine.
Graduates gain access to StaffMMJ.com, a nationally recognized staffing agency based in Phoenix.
While half a decade has passed since Prop 203 was signed into law, Arizona’s perception of MMJ has been slow to change. In order to be taken more seriously, and get ailing patients the help that they need, Olshavsky says dispensaries must focus less on hiring “pretty girls” and more on caregiver instruction.
“Our budtenders are definitely making a difference,” Olshavsky says. “They’re the ones making the right recommendations to patients. There’s no one type of [Herbal Rising] student. We have everybody from people who just graduated high school to 60-year-olds who want to make life better for people. I want people to see us as healers and not drug dealers.”
To learn more about budtending and dispensary agent certification, visit herbalrisings.com. The September 10 course is for those 18 and older and costs $199 on or before September 7 and $299 after. Attendees must register in advance. Directions and additional course information will be emailed the week of the event.
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