Jobs and sales in the Illinois cannabis industry are growing like weeds. Black Hawk College has a new partnership to offer career training in the burgeoning field.

The cannabis (legalized recreational marijuana) industry is creating thousands of career opportunities, yet a significant shortage of qualified professionals exists, according to BHC. As the cannabis industry expands, the demand for skilled and credible professionals expands with it.

You can see videos on the new Black Hawk cannabis training programs at

Through Green Flower, based in Ventura, Calif., Black Hawk is offering three eight-week online courses, for $900 each, beginning Feb. 18, 2023:

Richard Bush, Black Hawk’s dean of career programs, said the community college found Green Flower while researching how to provide superior training programs for people to enter the industry.

Richard Bush is dean of career programs for Black Hawk College.

The new fully online program “fits beautifully in the mission or objective purpose for Black College, which is preparing professionals for the careers of tomorrow,” Bush said recently.

“With a very young industry like this one, the cannabis industry coming into play, the need for highly skilled quality workers fits beautifully in with all of our other career and technical education offerings, including those that are for credit, and those that are not for credit,” he said. “And it really does complement the efforts and the quality that we can bring to the community.”

The courses are designed to appeal to people in all age groups and all backgrounds — “to individuals looking for a career change, to those who are looking to get into something entirely different or whatever strikes their interest,” Bush said.

The training will give people an advantage in looking for jobs in the field.

“The certificate gets them through the door and arms them with a significant amount of knowledge and skills,” he said. “It makes it much easier for the dispensary to provide them with very specific training for that particular institution.”

Illinois growth in cannabis sales

Illinois is one of 21 states (as well as Washington, D.C. and Guam) that allow the recreational sale of marijuana, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation recently announced that 2022 set adult-use cannabis sales records in all categories it tracks. This includes number of items sold, sales totals to Illinois and out-of-state residents, and sales total by month.

Gov. JB Pritzker takes in the applause before signing a bill in 2019 that legalizes adult-use cannabis in the state of Illinois at Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center in Chicago. AP Photo/Amr Alfiky)

For the year, Illinois adult-use cannabis dispensaries sold $1.55 billion worth of product, an increase of more than 12% from 2021 and 131% more than 2020, the first year cannabis sales were first legally allowed in Illinois.

There are currently 113 adult use cannabis dispensaries in Illinois, including the first three social equity dispensaries that opened their doors in 2022. One dispensary is Nature’s Treatment of Illinois (NTI) at 973 Tech Drive, Milan. NTI also has a cannabis dispensary at 735 W. Main St., Galesburg.

“When I signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act into law in 2019, we set out on an ambitious goal: to create the most equitable and economically prosperous cannabis industry in the nation. Our data from 2022 shows that we are well on our way towards making that idea a reality,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a recent state release.

“Not only did we break our previous sales record by more than 12% with a total of more than $1.5 billion, we also saw the first of our social equity adult use cannabis dispensaries open their doors for business—paving the way for an even stronger 2023.”

“This marks the second straight year that Illinois’ adult use cannabis industry has seen record-setting growth, and we are excited for what the future holds for the most equitable cannabis industry in the country,” said Mario Treto, Jr., Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. “We are optimistic the industry will only continue to flourish in 2023, as we welcome more dispensaries to Illinois.”

Cultivator Hunter Rogness prunes fan leaves from marijuana plants in the Leafline Labs grow center in Cottage Grove, Minn., Feb. 21, 2019. The Minnesota Legislature embarked on a path toward legalizing recreational marijuana on Jan. 11, 2023, when a legislative committee held the first hearing of the year on a bill that backers say is designed to avoid the pitfalls experienced by states that have already legalized it. (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP, File)

In total, 36,435,129 items were sold in Illinois adult use cannabis dispensaries in 2022, an increase of 20% from 2021, according to the state. In addition, Illinois resident sales totaled $1,073,132,436.48 (an increase of almost 14% from 2021), while sales to out-of-state residents totaled $479,192,383.91 (an increase of almost 10% from 2021).

Working with colleges nationwide

Green Flower says it provides “the world’s most comprehensive, on-demand training platform, built specifically for cannabis professionals.”

It works with 35 community colleges and universities nationwide, offering training to work in a dispensary (to operate and succeed in the cannabis retail environment); manufacturing (how to actually produce these products), and cultivation (teaching from seed to sale, how to grow commercial cannabis).

Max Simon is CEO of California-based Green Flower, which provides professional cannabis training to colleges and universities nationwide.

All the programs are workforce development initiatives, designed to help people enter the industry in these specific sectors, company CEO Max Simon said recently.

“It’s been a very exciting time, as the cannabis industry has gained more legitimacy, as it continues to grow, as the stigma goes down and people realize there’s lots of opportunity in this space – we’re really grateful to be powering the development of all these cannabis professionals around the country,” he said.

The company partnerships include the University of Illinois at Springfield, which offers six-month programs and include compliance and risk management (such as dealing with government regulations).

“We have these longer, deeper, more advanced programs, offered through universities, and we have these shorter, eight-week programs offered through community colleges like Black Hawk, which are more workforce development oriented,” Simon said. “They’re training you to get jobs in these specific sectors.”

Nature’s Treatment of Illinois has a cannabis dispensary at 973 Tech Drive, Milan.

The industry is “incredibly competitive, because there are a lot of people who love the cannabis plant and want to be a part of the industry,” he said. “So the competition to stand out to employers or to win licenses is incredibly difficult.”

BHC is the first community college in Illinois that Green Flower is working with, and they’re very excited about that, Simon said.

“The fastest growing sector of this industry is these entry-level positions, where people need to break into cultivation, manufacturing or retail,” he said. “We’ve been looking for the right partner in Illinois to power this part of the industry.”

There are over 28,000 full-time cannabis-related jobs in Illinois alone, Simon said.

“It’s continuing to grow every single year. It’s been exciting to get to this place where we can bring this legitimacy and people in Illinois to participate in this cannabis economy,” he said. Louisiana State University is a prominent school that Green Flower is partnering with, soon after Louisiana decriminalized marijuana in 2021.

BHC is among about 15 community colleges across the country with Green Flower training courses.

Why society, governments are embracing cannabis

The industry has had to overcome a “tremendous amount of misconception and stigma about cannabis that is not nearly as scary or accurate as the science will tell you,” Simon said.

The fastest growing segment of cannabis consumers is medical patients – using it for pain, sleep, anxiety, etc.

Marijuana at Pharmhouse Wellness in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Nov. 16, 2021. (WOOD TV8)

“As a society, as we shift away from this attitude that this is something that is bad for us, this is actually a beneficial plant,” Simon said. “It provides numerous benefits to people in a myriad of ways. While there are harms to it, there are harms to using everything.”

The actual harms to using cannabis are akin to the harms of caffeine, he said.

“I think our society is going through a shift, in dropping this old understanding of cannabis and updating it with a new lens,” Simon said. “The industry is growing in a dramatic fashion and as the industry grows, it’s creating more jobs, and more tax revenue and more opportunity.

“It’s building an ecosystem that, quite frankly, has a lot of value for those that are involved,” he said. “So every time a school decides to jo in us in this mission to educate people who participate in this industry, we continue to feel it’s legitimizing this cannabis industry and bringing more transparency to it, one step at a time.”

It’s made little sense that marijuana was illegal for decades, while cigarettes and alcohol have been legal, Simon said.

“The science doesn’t support the fears – it’s not to say there’s not potential harms,” he said. “We have a million things in our society that we accept and adopt some potential forms of harm that we embrace as a society. There’s no rational, logical reason why this safer, healthier for you, less toxic plant shouldn’t be in that same classification in our society.”

The eight-week classes are 100% online and you can take them at your own pace.

“They are exclusively taught by cannabis industry operators, who come into our studios and film classes to teach people what they’ve learned about succeeding in this industry,” Simon said. “You actually get to learn from some industry legends and people with deep experience and deep credibility in this space.”

Connecting with employers

After you pass an online exam, you receive a certificate from BHC, demonstrating your competency.

You’re also added to Green Flower’s employer network of businesses looking to hire people, Simon said. “It gives you the ability to plug into an ecosystem of businesses looking for these kinds of people.”

Black Hawk College is offering new online courses in the manufacturing, cultivation and retail sectors of the cannabis industry.

It’s important to take courses through colleges because “the trust in education lies in your local community,” he said. “When you are going for jobs, going for careers where you live, your local institution, your local pillar of education is where the credibility and trust lies. “We’ve always found it’s really important – it’s a very challenging, long process to get schools on board with us,” Simon said. “We felt it was important because that’s where the trust in education lies.”

Several years after Simon founded it in 2014, Green Flower pivoted from consumer to professional education content. Simon saw individuals attempting to break into the industry with no formal cannabis background, and companies struggling with high employee turnover and the lack of available skilled talent.

For the BHC programs, you can get a $50 discount if you register before Feb. 18. To enroll and for more information, visit the program website HERE.