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New Program Helps Marijuana Offenders Get Jobs In Legal Market

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Getting busted for weed is no walk in the park. There’s the arrest, a slew of court dates, typically a conviction, and depending on the severity of the offense, a sentence that can come with prison time and hefty fines. Perpetuating the punishment is the difficulties one often experiences after getting out of the clink and back into productive society.

Companies can be cautious about hiring ex-cons and other people, who, on paper, appear to be questionable choices for an employee. However, one organization has taken a novel new approach to assist cannabis offenders in securing gainful employment: Help them find work on the legal side of weed.

A non-profit outfit out of Ohio called URC Grows recently banded together with Riviera Creek Holdings, which runs a bunch of medical marijuana dispensaries across the state to help those with cannabis convictions find jobs in the legal smoke sector. According to the program’s website, “URC Grows seeks to be different by providing an Ohio Department of Education Approved Certification, in three focused areas. We will also provide entrepreneurial development services and land for each entrepreneur to grow on, or employment in a URC operated grow facility.”

As many as 60% of ex-prisoners are unemployed one year after their release from prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. So, for some pot offenders, this program is both a hot ticket back to gainful employment and a chance to become a marijuana mogul. “This program will give them an opportunity to get back into the workforce,” Brian Kessler, chairman of Riviera Creek Holdings LLC, told The Business Journal.

The goal of the accredited program is to make it easier for people with cannabis convictions haunting their records to find work and move forward on a path that doesn’t involve jail. It’s not just a program for those with minor blemishes for pot possession, either. The program is open to all cannabis offenders, even those convicted on more serious charges related to the illicit sale and cultivation of marijuana. Most already understand the basics, so why not turn pro?

“There were so many people that were jailed by this, and now that everyone is making money off something that they are already sitting in jail for, we want to give them an opportunity, everyone needs a second chance, and these are the things that they can do that were just natural to them that they will thrive in so why not give them this opportunity,” Dionne Dowdy, Executive Director of URC, told WFMJ.

Programs like these could and should become more prevalent as more states move toward fully legal cannabis markets. In the case of Ohio, the state has only a limited medical marijuana program in place (around 20,000 patients), so the industry isn’t quite as vast as it is in states like Colorado and California. Nevertheless, setting up the foundation to help people with cannabis convictions earn an honest paycheck in the profession that landed them in trouble in the first place is the right move.

As soon as Ohio goes fully legal — something that lawmakers are working toward this session — there will be tens of thousands of new jobs available out of the gate. It stands to reason that people, not only those with some experience growing and selling weed but a certificate in specialized aspects of the trade solidifying their legitimacy, will be more employable than others.

Although the program has experienced a bit of a slow start — enrolling only two students out of a class that seeks 10 — Dowdy is optimistic. “We already have a problem with workforce now but if we’re taking the next people that are coming and we’re training them and giving them an opportunity; to have a job, to have a career, to take care of their family, not only would it help them, it would help our city, it would help our community, it will help with the crime,” she said.

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