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Maryland Governor Launches Cannabis Workforce Program for Formerly Criminalized Individuals

Marginalized communities have known it for decades. Only recently have politicians and others joined the call, acknowledging that arrests and convictions for simple marijuana possession disproportionately impact minority communities and create unnecessary barriers to finding careers and financial opportunities. These barriers sometimes keep people from meaningful careers, financial security, and suitable housing opportunities.

Today, Maryland’s Governor, Wes Moore (D), says he will do something about that. He is launching a marijuana workforce development program that focuses on helping individuals criminalized over cannabis. The move is supposed to help bring down barriers to employment, especially in the marijuana industry, and increase interest in the state’s budding cannabis sector. It also prioritizes individuals and communities who have a history of cannabis-related offenses and may have been negatively impacted by cannabis criminalization.

Marijuana Workforce Development Program

In a first, the governor of Maryland launched a unique marijuana workforce development program that focuses on supporting those with marijuana convictions on their record and the marijuana industry. It is the next step in a long line of progressive marijuana policies for the state. First was a mass pardon for over 175,000 marijuana possession and paraphernalia convictions.

In a bold move, Gov. Moore established the Cannabis Workforce Development Program, a free service for eligible applicants. Those who make it into the program can participate in eight self-paced courses taught by cannabis industry experts, business operators, and college professors. Program participants get hands-on experience with topics relevant to the cannabis industry today. Once 100-course hours of virtual instruction are finished, individuals can enroll in two-day, in-person occupational training.

Gov. Moore calls the inventive program a “groundbreaking collaboration that will support Marylanders interested in joining the state’s growing cannabis industry and prioritize individuals and communities directly impacted by the War on Drugs.”

The program’s first location will be in Baltimore in November. Plans are to expand it to other areas of Maryland over the following year. Up to five regions in the state may host the Cannabis Workforce Development Program. Anne Arundel County, the Southern region, Prince George’s Country, and the Eastern and Western regions of the state are all slated to welcome the program to their communities.

The Maryland Department of Labor’s Employment Advancement Right Now Program supports the initiative. Maryland Department of Labor Secretary Portia Wusays, “EARN promotes jobs and economic growth in Maryland, and the cannabis industry offers opportunities for entrepreneurs and career seekers.” The agency has given the new program a $122,000 grant meant to help jumpstart the process. The Maryland Cannabis Administration has also secured partnerships with licensed cannabis operators and at least two higher education institutions with long-track records of leading the cannabis industry education charge.

The Goal is Simple

For such a progressive and innovative program, the goal is simple: help reduce the barriers to employment for those with a cannabis criminalization record while bolstering the marijuana industry with qualified and skilled workers.

In a press release, Gov. Moore says, “For decades, cannabis policy has been used as a cudgel. Together, we prove how cannabis policy can be used as a valuable tool to leave no one behind.” This new and multi-tiered approach to drug reform is putting the power back into the hands of those disproportionately hurt by previous drug policies.

Although Maryland legalized recreational marijuana in 2022 with an overwhelming vote by the people, those with previous cannabis convictions were still haunted by their past. President Joe Biden has embraced pardons for those with simple federal marijuana convictions. Still, those with state convictions were left in the lurch unless governors issued their pardons. Many individuals found themselves in a no-man’s-land where marijuana was legal, but their previous marijuana convictions still reflected poorly on them and limited their professional and financial opportunities.

Residents with a history of marijuana attempting to pull themselves out of the criminal justice system found the process challenging and complicated, with few resources available to help willing individuals get back on their feet again and earn an honest wage. The Cannabis Workforce Development Program is looking to change that.

More Positive News on the Horizon?

In other recent developments in the state, Maryland’s governor also says he wants to push cannabis policy forward to an even more significant degree. He aims to work with lawmakers to facilitate expungements as a follow-up to his 175,000 drug pardons. An expungement is like a legal clean slate, “erasing” an individual’s previous conviction so that it no longer shows on basic background checks. President Biden says that he “commends and welcomes” the move and plans to promote a similar cannabis clemency act at the federal level.

Earlier in the year, Maryland also pushed the marijuana envelope by announcing the winners of its new and innovative marijuana licensing lottery system for social equity applicants. It approved 174 growers, dispensaries, and processors, paving the way for more cannabis businesses to open shop.

Where will those new businesses find qualified employees? Hopefully, there will be an influx of skilled and knowledgeable laborers, thanks to Maryland’s new Cannabis Workforce Development Program. It all comes full circle. Everyone tends to win when the state works to support residents and emerging industries. New businesses can thrive with help from workers with the tools and education they need to be successful and productive. Workers can reap the benefits of a fulfilling career path with financial stability, something many only dreamed would be possible after a cannabis conviction.

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