Like many young people I had the pleasure of working in the restaurant business. I worked as a bartender for 5+ years. During that tenure, I had very little headaches with customers. We did have the odd person that needed to be cut off, and on a couple of occasions we had to call the police on what we suspected to be a drunk driver. However, considering the amount of shifts that I put in, first as a part-time, and then eventually as a full-time bartender, I thought this ratio was pretty darn good.
A direct line can be drawn from when I left bartending, to what I am doing today.
I liked it so much that several years later, while also working full time in my current career, I decided to moonlight as a bartender. However, this time around I couldn’t begin my employ until I completed the Ontario Smart Serve program.
Between the time that I had left the industry and the time I re-entered, the Smart Serve Certification had been introduced, and had become a requirement to serving alcohol in Ontario. Governed by the ACGO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario), this certification program addressed the parameters around serving alcohol to the public.
Things such as watching for signs of intoxication, knowing how to cut people off, being aware of over-serving etc. were all part of the course.
This was all common-sense stuff for someone that had been working in the industry previously, but for a younger, less experienced bartender, I could see where a certification course could be of use. There was a small fee to enrol in the course, and while some restaurants would cover those costs, most left it to one’s own devises to enrol and pay for participation in the program.
Now that dispensaries are open as of April 1 of this year, it would stand to reason that those individuals who will be selling cannabis to the public would also require a certification process. Similar to the Smart Serve Program, this new cannabis certification is known as “ CannSell Ontario”.
The AGCO, also the regulating body of cannabis retail stores in Ontario, said that the CanSell certification will be the sole certification program in the province. The self-guided program was co-developed by MADD Canada and Lift & Co and according to the CannSell.ca certification website:
“CannSell is the only training program approved for cannabis retailers in Ontario. Ontario law requires that all employees of cannabis retail stores, store managers and cannabis retail licence holders must complete the CanSell certification before their first day of work.”
Out of curiosity more than anything, I decided to enrol in the course only 1 short month after it was launched. The impetus for wanting to take the program had nothing to do with my interest or intent on getting into the retail business of cannabis, but moreover, I wanted to understand what areas of information were covered in the program, how intensive the training was, how long it took to complete the program, and frankly if there was anything that I would learn from the program.
The website for the course can be found at, https://learn.cannsell.ca/ and upon landing on the home page, you are given two options for courses – CannSell Standard and CannSell Expert.
The “standard” course is what is required for retail cannabis certification, where the “expert” course looks like it would be more geared toward someone who is looking to be a quasi-cannabis Sommelier. As the website explains about the CanSell Expert program : “it equips learners with advanced knowledge about cannabis. CannSell Expert is for individuals looking to offer outstanding customer service by providing a thorough understanding of cannabis consumers and products. It takes a deeper dive into topics beyond the CannSell Standard Certification, providing key insights into subjects such as cannabis genetics, methods of consumption, and growing practices.” The price tag reflects the more intensive training setting one back $449.99 + HST. The CannSell standard by comparison is only $49.99 +HST.
The enrolment in CannSell Standard is as simple as most other websites, where you need only to create a profile, and once set-up, you are then able to pay for the on-line training program. After the payment is processed, training can begin immediately. It is suggested that the course is around the four hour mark, which I thought I would be able to reduce by skipping segments of the course – specifically material I am already up on. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Irrespective of what you already know, there is no way of fast tracking or skipping any of the components. There are roughly 88 modules to the course, with many of the modules having their own sub-modules. So true to their word, it took about 4 hours to get through. There is the ability to get part of the way through, take a break, and pick up where you last left off – assuming you don’t have the opportunity, or the mental fortitude to sit through the straight 4 hours.
I wanted to get this completed ASAP so I powered through in the 4 hours.
The course is emphatic about not providing any advice as to the type of strain, and the condition(s) they may aid.
There were many things that were very basic in the training and are covered in the early modules. These would include: Understanding different strains of cannabis i.e. indica/sativa, understanding different cannabis ingestion methods such as smoking, vaping and edibles, and understanding different cannabis tools such as vaporizers, pipes and grinders.
The middle part of the course focuses on the laws surrounding the dispensaries themselves, including licensing, how long records should be kept, how to destroy bad product etc. It also addresses the security requirements that all dispensaries must utilize.
The final part of the program really focuses on serving the customer. This includes:
- insuring they are of age to be in the store and to purchase cannabis
- Looking for signs of intoxication, and if needed, declining service
- What to look for with identification and the types of IDs that are valid for Cannabis purchase
- Looking at the legal repercussions to the dispensary owner and the employee in the event an under-age or intoxicated customer is served
Roughly 65% of the course revolves around these latter topics. Offering videos of families who were impacted by cannabis impaired drivers, watching videos featuring Robert Soloman MADD Canada Legal Director, and Andrew Murie CEO MADD Canada.
To say the course is comprehensive would not be wholly accurate despite the four hours of material. The course is emphatic about not providing any advice as to the type of strain, and the condition(s) they may aid. In fact the course largely revolves around preventing over serving. Of course that is an important attribute of serving the public, but only one of many facets of the role. If we know that purchasing LEGAL cannabis in person is a higher premium than buying over the LEGAL website, we should have access to some form of advice – shouldn’t we?
Over the course of study, there were a few minor things that I learned, that I hadn’t known before.
- Although you cannot request a health card as a form of ID at a dispensary, if it is volunteered, it can be a legal piece of photo ID for the purpose of buying cannabis.
- A dispensary needs to have High Def Video on all entrance and exits as well as at points of sale, receiving areas, on the floor, and any area where cannabis is stored.
- It is recommended not to drive for 3 hours after the use of cannabis.
Much of the information was a rehash of what I had learned through the Smart Serve Program i.e. DUI laws and convictions. How to avoid confrontation when declining service. How to identify an intoxicated person etc.
Other information contained in the course has been learned over the years of being involved in the cannabis space including the strains of plants, ingestion methods, cannabis support devices etc.
I was now ready to write the exam, which consisted of 25 questions, and required an 80% score to pass.
There are two opportunities to write the exam, after which, you would be required to have to repay the $49.99 + HST to re-enroll in the course should you not pass one of the two attempts.
Fortunately for me, I was able to complete the exam in 7 minutes and scored 24.5/25. Apparently one of the questions had two correct answers, leaving me with only ½ of a possible 1 point. The exam itself, although not difficult, had questions that you have to pay close attention to.
“The federal government passed over control of the Medical Marijuana program to the provinces” True or False.
Because we the course is focused on provincial legislation, the natural answer would be true. But, in reality the federal government still oversees the Medical Marijuana program in Canada, and only the recreational control has been given to the provinces.
There are also the requisite confusing ways to ask questions such as “all of the following are correct but”, or “all of the following are incorrect but”.
I also looked at the second exam, and it was different than the first. I am sure this is to prevent people from printing off the exam questions and sharing them with friends. I wonder how many iterations of questions there are…at least two from what I can see.
Upon successful completion of the course and exam, a certificate is generated and deposited under your profile. This certificate has a unique number associated with it, and no doubt is the number that is used for registration as a CanSell certified dispensary employee. The certificate can also be printed for your records.
You are not going to learn how to roll a joint, or learn how to take a hit from a bong. You are not going to learn the nuances of indica and sativa, the difference between hash and shatter, or how to grow your own plants.
In summary, for those who want to work in the retail cannabis space in Ontario, the ONLY option for certification is CannSell Ontario. Much like the Smart Serve program focuses on the appropriate serving oversight to prevent under age drinking, DUI etc., this program is primarily focused on teaching the safe dispensing of cannabis with the same oversight objectives.
Under the rules of certification, a dispensary employee is strictly forbidden to give strain or brand recommendations for medical purposes, and are advised to have the person contact their medical professional for that information.
The Smart Serve course did not teach me how to make a good Manhattan or understand different qualities of scotch and CanSell will not make you a good Budtender.
If you are looking for a more information on becoming a Budtender check out this article.
For the more hardcore Cannabis enthusiast, there is a CannSell Expert course for $449.99 + HST that gets into growing methods etc.
It takes, on average, about 4 hours to complete the course.
The exam, which is taken on line, is available immediately at course completion, and requires a minimum of 80% for certification approval.
There are two exam attempts, and should both exams fall below the 80% threshold, a second payment of $49.99+HST would be required for an additional two exam opportunities.
I would suggest that a realistic exam completion time would be 20-30 minutes. I did leave my second exam open for almost 8 hours before submission, and it was accepted. This would suggest that there is no time limit that you have to complete the exam.
Written by Brad – Can Can Buzz