GLASSBORO, N.J. (PIX11) — New Jersey is jumping head first in the proverbial THC waters and bringing a new meaning to higher learning.

The Garden State is developing the first pilot apprenticeship program in the country that will be dedicated to training the future workers of the cannabis industry, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Tuesday.

Several other partners will team up with NJDOL to ensure the program’s success. They are Rowan University, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 360, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, Rowan College of South Jersey, the Gloucester County Workforce Development Board, and Loud Wellness, Inc. of Glassboro. 

The NJDOL has committed $325,000 in funding to the program that will develop a curriculum providing individuals with a high level of education and industry-specific training to operate in the expanding cannabis retail market.

While Rowan University will oversee all operations and create educational and training courses for the retail program, the university will also develop related apprenticeships for cannabis production, manufacturing, and distribution in collaboration with Rowan College of South Jersey.

“Through this partnership, we will develop degrees, from pre-apprenticeship through graduate degrees, for citizens who will be poised to make an immediate impact on the cannabis retail industry,” said Rowan University President Ali A. Houshmand. “We will work with our partners to meet the needs of employers while providing pathways to sustainable employment opportunities.”

A memorandum of understanding between Rowan and the NJDOL was signed last week. It states that the program’s objectives are to educate and train employees to support the growth of cannabis businesses in New Jersey and to create pathways for workers, particularly those in marginalized communities.

Robert Asaro-Angelo, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development commissioner, said that New Jersey is pleased to be a pioneer in creating a highly-qualified retail cannabis workforce.

“NJDOL is proud to partner with Rowan University and other stakeholders to ensure that the expanding cannabis industry has the skilled workers it needs to grow and thrive, and, significantly, to invest in this equitable education and training program, so the cannabis workforce is inclusive and diverse,” Asaro-Angelo said. 

UFCW Local 360 and the AFL-CIO will lead the charge in providing apprenticeship coordinator services, contributing to ongoing program development, helping attract and retain apprentices, and building relationships with employers to open up apprenticeship and job prospects, among other things.

“With both medical and recreational cannabis now legal in our state, organized labor looks forward to partnering with academia, business and government to craft a program to ensure the best-trained workforce and quality jobs are the standards in the cannabis industry,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO. “New Jersey leads our nation on so many different worker training initiatives, and I recognize the efforts of the Murphy administration in doing that yet again in the cannabis industry.”

In addition to managing apprentice registration, tracking training, providing recruitment, and ensuring retention, Rowan College of South Jersey will provide basic skill training, assessments, and industry-recognized credentials for adult learners.

The Gloucester County Workforce Development Board will focus on recruitment, apprentice onboarding, and training while also reaching out to particular communities.

Apprentices will receive technical training and hands-on learning from Loud Wellness, Inc., a cannabis cultivator. According to the MOU, the company will hire some apprentices from the program and is building a cultivation and production plant in Glassboro.