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United Food and Commercial Workers union offers pot course to train ‘budtenders’ for NY, NJ shops

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The labor movement is going to pot.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union has launched what it calls the first-in-the-nation apprenticeship program for aspiring “budtenders” to sell weed at licensed cannabis stores in New York and New Jersey.

The certified program to become a “cannabis professional” is being done in conjunction with the Queens-based Cannabis Place.

“No-one has done this before,” said Hugh Giordano, director of organizing at UFCW Local 360.

“We have a visionary employer harnessing our unmatched cannabis industry expertise to train ambitious, local, but often overlooked talent,” he said.

“It’s a scalable and repeatable model that delivers great value for employees, owners and consumers.”

The Cannabis Place founder Osbert Orduna said he formed a partnership with UFCW as part of the community benefits program he submitted while he obtained a cannabis licenses to operate in New York and New Jersey.

“We are training people to be budtenders, to be cannabis professionals,” Orduna, an ex-Marine and disabled vet who operates a licensed cannabis store in Jersey City, as well as a weed delivery service based in Queens, said of the two-week apprenticeship.

He said he offers $1,000 stipends for participants in the program and his firm is hiring those who “graduate” and earn a certificate.

The students are taught about the history of cannabis and get into the weeds about the cultivation process, including how to grow and manufacture marijuana — the so-called “seed to sale” program — as well as learning about THC, cultivars or strains and terpenes responsible for the aromas and flavors.

Students also are advised on how to interact with customers, including conflict resolution, and briefed on the ins and outs of the business and the state’s regulations governing the industry.

The program includes 80 hours of classroom instruction, followed by 2,000 hours on the job.

Orduna, who is of Colombian descent, said he was eager to work with the union and pleased that most of the first 22 graduates of the budtender program were people of color.

The ex-marine is the only cannabis operator who has licenses to operate in both New York and New Jersey and is on tap to open a marijuana dispensary in Middle Village, Queens.

The UFCW has been at the forefront of unionizing cannabis workers nationwide, and initially enlisted employees in New York’s medicinal marijuana program.

Both New York and New Jersey have suffered from slow, rocky rollouts of their licensed recreational cannabis programs.

In the Empire State, there are 26 licensed cannabis dispensaries or delivery services, 11 of which are in New York City after lawmakers legalized adult sale of marijuana in 2021.

So the apprenticeship program is getting off the ground at an opportune time.

Amid the snail-like pace of openings, an estimated 1,500 unlicensed shops selling marijuana have sprouted up like weeds across the city’s five boroughs — even across from City Hall and the Queens civic hub including the district attorney’s office before they shut down.

Currently, there are 38 dispensaries open in the state of New Jersey. Of these, 13 are exclusively for medical cannabis patients.

The labor movement has high hopes for its role in the growing cannabis industry and is proud to put the marijuana plant under the union label.

“The best employers recognize the enormous untapped pool of amazing talent out there,” said Giordano, of UFCW. “Programs like this help attract that talent and release its potential.”


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