First of all, does everyone in here consume?”
The instructor’s question elicits some tentative nods among the dozen students assembled at a community center in suburban Richton Park.
“OK, raise your hand if you do not consume.”
A single hand goes up sheepishly. “I’m off that right now,” says a millennial man in the back row, provoking a smattering of giggles.
The instructor is Kiana Hughes, CEO of Elevated Education, one of the companies approved by the state to teach courses such as this one. She invites us to introduce ourselves and tell everyone why we’ve ponied up $125 to attend this three-hour “responsible vendor training session.” Many of my fellow classmates explain that they aim to work as entry-level dispensary agents, a.k.a. budtenders. The rehabilitation nurse seated next to me admits she already sells her homemade infused baked goods to patients seeking pain relief. A dreadlocked 25-year-old named Kevin says he will do whatever it takes to forge a career around his passion. “I smoke at least three blunts before 12 o’clock,” he tells the class. “I’ve been doing that for the last four or five years.”
If Kevin entered the classroom flying high off his third prelunch blunt, his mellow is surely harshed when Hughes begins lecturing about the provisions of the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act and its enforcing agency, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. We take notes as she describes random inspections, electronic monitoring of dispensaries’ inventory, round-the-clock video surveillance. “Be prepared for them to be very invasive,” Hughes says, “because there’s a lot of fines attached to noncompliance.”
We are also told that all inventory must be stored in a locked room or cabinet and handled solely by dispensary employees until a sale is made. All products must be in sealed, odor-proof, child-resistant packaging that cannot include the image of a cannabis leaf, cartoon character, or anthropomorphic animal — anything that could appeal to minors. At the end of each day, dispensary workers must hand-count and log every inventory item down to the last nug. On top of all that, any damaged or compromised product has to be quarantined and disposed of within seven days. “Get your tissues out,” Hughes warns, “because we’re about to talk about destruction of cannabis.” She explains that before the damaged goods are taken to a landfill, incinerator, or other disposal facility, they must be rendered unusable — by a method such as dousing them with bleach — in view of surveillance cameras.
The mood brightens once Hughes turns to the subject of cannabis’s chemical makeup and its psychotropic effects. We learn about terpenes, the essential oils that give weed its odor. We get schooled on various cannabinoids. We study the onset time of each consumption method. “Smoke or vape, you feel it in about 10 to 15 minutes,” Hughes says, adding that edibles can take considerably longer. She gazes around the room. “Who’s got an edibles story?”
A man named Mark shares a tale of woe. “I was working at a store at River Oaks Center, and I brought in a pan of cookies and warned everyone: ‘These are not normal cookies!’ About an hour later, my coworker Lavar is in the backroom with his head down, sweating, his heart’s thumping, and he’s seeing shit. We called his wife, and she and I walked him to the car.”
“And the parking lot was moving!” interjects the man sitting next to Mark, who turns out to be Lavar. “It lasted all day!”
Hughes spots the teachable moment. “Effects of overconsumption can be alleviated by reassuring the person if they’re freaking out. It’s important to know this because we’re going to have a lot of people coming in who are consuming cannabis for the first time. They’re going to want to get as much THC in their system as they can. And as professionals, we’ve got to be able to reassure them that they’re not going to die.”
The final exam is 35 questions. We have to get 80 percent of them right to pass. I score a 94. Hughes’s assistant hands me a certificate of completion, my name printed across the front.
It’s not exactly a PhD, but in the end, who knows, it might be more valuable.