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For all its complexities, growing and dispensing medical marijuana in Florida is a $7.1 billion industry. As of now, the most comprehensive educational opportunity for those looking to gain a legitimate, practical knowledge of medical marijuana is located right here in Orlando. It’s called Learn Sativa University, and so far, thousands of students have participated in the program and are now employed in this blossoming industry.

Patrick O’Brien, founder of Learn Sativa University, sat down with Orlando Weekly to talk about the medical marijuana industry, the Learn Sativa program, and anyone with a passion for the industry can find employment and fulfillment within it.

OW: Why is participating in an educational program like Learn Sativa University important for someone who wants to work in the medical marijuana industry?

PO: The idea of Learn Sativa University is simple: We want individuals to know there’s a safe and legal environment for them to learn about medical marijuana. They will gain practical knowledge that will help them get a well-paying job in the industry.

We want to lift the stigma, and eliminate the idea that someone learned about marijuana in traditionally unorthodox ways. It’s about having that piece of paper that shows employers that you’re serious and passionate about the industry enough that you invested in yourself.

OW: What kinds of topics will students learn at Learn Sativa University?

PO: Our students learn how to treat common conditions with specific strains of cannabis, how to administer cannabis in proper dosage, how the cannabinoids interact with the body’s natural process and more. Product knowledge and safe handling are immensely important in this industry.

Students will also learn how to key into what they’re already good at — which they might have done in other positions like sales or marketing — and apply them to the medical marijuana industry.

OW: Is Learn Sativa University like any other educational program?

PO: Learn Sativa University courses have homework, tests and labs to show the history and science of cannabis. The labs help students see the practical side of growing and dispensing medical marijuana so when they start a new job, they’re already going into that job with a healthy amount of knowledge.

One of the most important things we teach our students is about the laws surrounding the medical marijuana industry, both in Florida and nationwide. It’s a complex system, but it’s extremely important that our students are fluent in the legality of medical marijuana. Because I’m the Executive Director on the board of the Central Florida chapter of NORML, I have a boots-on-the-ground track to new information that will affect our students in their everyday lives.

We give our students the tools they need to be properly prepared to turn their knowledge and passion into a real career. As part of the class, we have an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop resume builder, so students can leave the program with a real resume that integrates their previous experience with their new knowledge of the medical marijuana industry.

OW: What kinds of jobs do Learn Sativa graduates land in the medical marijuana industry?

PO: Our graduates do all kinds of jobs in the industry, from being grow technicians, accountants, extraction technicians, budtenders, dispensary managers. There’s a good chance that the people our students are hired by and work with on a daily basis are also Learn Sativa University graduates.

There is also an element of networking within Learn Sativa University. The person sitting next to you in class might be your future business partner, boss or colleague.

We also have a live job board that is updated weekly, so graduates can always keep an eye out for new positions in the industry. As part of the law, dispensaries aren’t allowed to do any advertising, including for jobs, so our job boards are essential for our graduates who want to start their careers.

OW: How often are classes and how much do they cost?

PO: Potential students can either participate in the online courses or a hands-on class. The hands-on class is 12 hours in total, either over one full day (with lunch included) or over four weeks. The one-day class is especially popular for students traveling to Orlando from elsewhere in the state, other states or internationally. The four-week class is more popular for local students.

Many programs are extremely expensive, but Learn Sativa University is extremely affordable. We have been in business for three years and have never raised prices, despite explosive growth. Our online program costs $199, and the hands-on program costs $299. If a student registers for the online course and decides later that they would like to also participate in the hands-on course, the upgrade cost is $99.

OW: Tell us about the job fair you will have this coming Friday?

PO: This is unlike any job fair you’ve been to before. We have a job fair monthly, and we invite one employer each month. These are the largest licensed dispensaries in Florida and nationwide, and they conduct onsite interviews. You will know by the end of the meeting whether you have a job or a good chance at a job with these companies. The job fair is held between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., and our next one is on Friday, Feb. 1. Interested individuals can come in between those hours to be interviewed. Just bring resumes and dress in business casual. At a typical job fair, between 80-300 individuals are hired at one time

That seems like a lot, but because of new licensing and laws, a lot of dispensaries are staffing up for big growth in the industry. Lots of locations will open up. Once recreational legalization comes into play, dispensaries will be like craft breweries. They’ll be everywhere, and there will be big staffing needs. At our job fairs, decision-makers are right in front of you. It’s an invaluable opportunity for someone who wants to get a job in the medical marijuana industry.

We have held two job fairs in the last 45 days, and more than 382 individuals have received job offers.

OW: How can someone get more information or apply to the program?

PO: We are selective in who we accept into Learn Sativa University. We want to make sure we educate the best and brightest individuals — people who are passionate about the industry and who want to make a difference in people’s lives — not just someone who thinks they’re going to sit around and smoke all day at the dispensary. That’s not how this works.

If someone thinks they’d be a good fit, or just wants to learn more, they can go to our website at LearnSativa.org and click “Get Started.” Once we receive their application, we follow up with a phone call or e-mail. It’s that simple.

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