Nick Tennant intends to cash in on what he believes is literally a booming “green” growth industry: medical marijuana.
Tennant is the founder and president of Southfield-based Med Gro Cannabis College, a new trade school offering training courses for adults interested in becoming state-qualified caregivers under the medical marijuana law.
His idea to open such a school was in anticipation of voters last November approving state-regulated therapeutic use of marijuana for people suffering from specific chronic medical conditions. He began organizing the school in December.
Med Gro's first class of 25 students launched in September, and a new class began Thursday night. The six-week curriculum, which is 25 to 30 class hours and meets one night a week, covers legal and business issues, pot history, cultivation, cooking and medical/caregiving training.
Degreed botanists and lawyers teach the classes, Tennant said, and the student body ranges from recent high school graduates to church pastors who minister to people suffering from AIDS and other diseases.
The Michigan Department of Community Health this year has issued nearly 1,800 cards to caregivers that allow them to grow marijuana for more than 4,400 qualified patients who also have state-issued cards.
Tennant wants to capitalize on what's a growth industry elsewhere. In California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, it's estimated to be a $14 billion industry. A dozen states have similar laws.
“We saw the market opportunities and did some research” into what he calls a recession-proof industry.
Thus far, Tennant's risk has paid off. He said the school was in the black in its first month, and its first-year revenue is projected at $500,000.
A full semester at Med Gro Cannabis College costs $475 (payable in three $183 installments) and two-day weekend seminars are $250.
Tennent said his venture also will sell related supplies and services to students and those in the medical marijuana field.
Because the school isn't providing a state-recognized certification, it doesn't need a state certification to function, Tennant said.
“We are going through the process of becoming a state-registered post secondary school,” he said.
Tennant would like to see the law changed to regulate medical marijuana training to ensure it's professional.
“There is nothing written in the state law that requires caregivers to have a formal education like we are offering,” he said. “This is no doubt a young industry, and the law needs amending. We really have to be pioneers and set precedent. Like I said before, a little professionalism goes a long way.”
Tennant, a business major at Walsh College, previously ran an auto detailing shop before turning to his current endeavor.
“I always had interest in the medical-marijuana field. It seemed like it always had a place in my life, marijuana in general,” he said. “When we knew this law was coming through, we knew we wanted to get into this industry.”
The school is marketing itself through a Google Adwords campaign, print advertising in alternative publications such as Metro Times and Real Detroit, and through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
“We're trying to do whatever we can to make a name for ourselves,” Tennant said.
He's not alone. Since Michigan's law went in effect, there's been a budding interest in medical marijuana.
Most recently, student chapters of the National Lawyers Guild and the Police Officers for Drug Law Reform jointly hosted a medical marijuana symposium last week at Wayne State University with the goal of educating medical and legal professionals.
In December, nonprofit The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation opened a clinic in Southfield that pairs qualified patients with physicians willing to handle the state's medical marijuana paperwork.
Marijuana is Michigan's third most valuable cash crop behind corn and soybeans at $350 million annually, claimed Greg Francisco, executive director of the Paw Paw-based Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, which also has an office in Detroit and claims 1,000 paid members.
Francisco is also part of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland, Calif.-based organization that does traveling medical marijuana education events and has been operating out of Ann Arbor since May.
“It's a friendly competition (with Med Gro Cannabis College)” he said. “We need to get this information out. There's a huge need to grow this medicine and to train entrepreneurs to operate an ethical medical marijuana business.”
He likened the industry to the 1849 California gold rush and noted that the real money is to be made from businesses that provide supplies and information rather than the pot itself.
“It's not really the caregivers, per se, but the entrepreneurs,” Francisco said.
Tennant and others in the medical marijuana business know there is a stigma to overcome.
The “higher education” jokes are obvious: Do course materials include “High Times” and Twinkies? Will Cheech & Chong be teaching?
The school intends to counter that.
“Professionalism goes a long way. Our teachers are not just some stoner off the street. These are degreed botanists and attorneys teaching classes,” he said.
Educating the public on what he believes are the benefits and safety of medical marijuana is part of his school's mission, too.
“The fact we don't embrace (marijuana as a growth industry) is silly. It's a safer substance than alcohol,” he said. “We could be grabbing a significant share in tax revenue and income.”
By Bill Shea
October 11, 2009
Cannabis on the syllabus: Entrepreneur trains caregivers issues of medical marijuana