Higher Learning: Scottsdale's College of Cannabis


Budding entrepreneurs can start taking online cannabis business classes at Scottsdale Community College (SCC) for credit and certification starting this fall.

Last year, Arizona banked $1.9 billion from the marijuana industry. That puts the state in the top 10 of overall national revenue from sales.

But there’s more money to be had as Arizona’s Proposition 207, legalizing recreational use of cannabis for individuals 21 and over, establishes deeper roots. Medicinal use has been legal for a decade.

Marie Saloum, CEO of GreenPharms, a Mesa dispensary, says classes like these at SCC will hopefully teach students the fundamentals of the retail cannabis industry, which is crucial in such an ever-changing nuanced, and booming marketplace.

“When reality diverts from the expectations — as it invariably will — these fundamentals will provide the basis for the plan forward,” said Saloum.

There are four cannabis business classes at Scottsdale Community College, with Cannabis 101 (CAN101) being the introduction to the curriculum and earning three credits. CAN110, worth one credit, teaches students about social equity and current issues in the cannabis industry. In CAN120, worth three credits, students will learn about legalities and the regulatory environment. Finally, CAN125, two credits, delves into supply chain management. The entire course will earn students a certification and nine credits. Cost for a Maricopa County resident will be $85 per credit hour.

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CAN101 focuses on all aspects of the industry, including its history, social and political aspects. Maybe, more important, the syllabus goes into trends and business plans. It might seem like dispensaries are the only profitable option, but maybe not, according to Saloum.

“When it comes to businesses within the industry that operate outside of the dispensary model, I only see those markets expanding as the push toward federal legalization continues to gather momentum,” she said. “Currently, we are already seeing an increase in prevalence of some companies — from edibles brands and consumption-friendly event spaces and promoters, to accessories brands and even dabtending services.”

To the nervous consumer, an urban boutique dispensary might seem a little intimidating whereas a multi-state conglomerate with an “Apple Store” aesthetic could put them at ease. While both have value in different ways, it’s at those mom-and-pop shops where consumers might get a more informed experience because “they are overseen by people on the ground here in Arizona,” said Saloum.

“Meanwhile, while larger corporations may have a presence here, any decision-making authority has likely to be obtained by someone with no connection to the locale, and subsequently, to the people who live here," she added.

Owning her own shop, it’s been Saloum's experience that knowing the local community is important for business. “It’s precisely because we live here, we send our kids to the same schools as our patrons, we shop at the same stores as them —- it’s because of this that companies like GreenPharms are able to be so involved in the community,” she said.

As students will probably learn as they progress through the courses, there’s more money to be made in the cannabis industry than just owning a storefront.

Saloum said there’s been a recent uptick of interest in concentrates and extracts. With the passing of recreational use in Arizona, that market has exploded but has little risk of oversaturation. In fact, she contended, “It has arguably established itself comfortably as a subculture of the larger cannabis community.”

As with most legalized recreational substances, there are guidelines, and Saloum hopes that students pay close attention to compliance and state laws, which might be their most useful resource. “Aside from that, it’s just a huge advantage, overall, to learn about every aspect of the business, from seed to sale, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of how to best navigate the landscape as you start out.”

After nearly a decade in the dispensary industry, Saloum has learned a lot. Through trial and error, her success stems mostly from knowing her community and being able to connect with people whether they are her employers or clients. Perhaps there is more to running a cannabis enterprise than earning college credits.

“The biggest lesson I have learned is that like any other industry, cannabis is fraught with its share of challenges,” she said. “These can range the spectrum from supply chain hurdles to the challenge of maintaining a diverse and equitable work environment. The best way to overcome any challenge is through open, effective communication, as well as taking the time to consider all aspects of the issue at hand before determining the best solution.”

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Timothy Rawles