Review - CannSell : Ontario's Retail Cannabis Training
On February 25th, the CannSell retail training program went live, allowing the public to purchase the course, and take an on-line exam to become certified to work in the cannabis retail industry in Ontario.
Similar to Alberta’s SellSafe training, CannSell is mandatory training in Ontario for cannabis retail workers and is delivered via a web portal and contains an exam to be completed after the course content has been learned. You require 80% on the exam to pass, which will get you the coveted CannSell Certificate of Achievement. CannSell.ca touts a expert level course as the next level of training, however this offering is not yet available. The Expert course is slated to cover genetics, consumption, and growing practices.
CannSell was created by Lift & Co in partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada. Lift is well known for its cannabis conferences and educational content, as is MADD Canada for its advocacy against drunk driving. Some key MADD staff such as Andrew Murie are featured in parts of the training.
CannSell is delivered over a series of videos with some interactive knowledge tests acting as a pre-exam gauge of understanding the lesson content. The videos begin mostly as a standard slide-deck presentation, and towards the middle add some recorded video content with MADD staff.
As the content heads into specific retail situations such as denying a customer, some friendly faces walk through the correct way to handle those situations and the applicable regulations and penalties. The training is self-paced, with the only limitations being that if you fail the exam twice you will need to purchase the course again for another attempt.
The exam itself is a standard multiple choice test of 25 questions, an 80% score is needed to pass the course. Once passed, you will receive a certificate of achievement stating you have completed the course and will be able to apply to work in the legal retail cannabis industry in Ontario.
CannSell covers a wide base of information ranging from provincial regulations about transporting cannabis in your car, to penalties for selling cannabis to underage persons, to the intricacies of having more than one store in your corporation. It is a more comprehensive course than SellSafe, but it is also a much longer course. The course creators advertise CannSell as a 4 hour course, not taking any breaks it took me about 2 hours to get from course start to completing the exam.
The course is surprisingly thorough in going through the history of prohibition, from how cannabis became a controlled substance, through all iterations of medical cannabis programs in Canada to the present state under the Cannabis Act.
The basics of the cannabis plant are covered, familiar topics include Indica vs Sativa and terpenes, but also some new areas such as what male and female cannabis create and how they are typically used in the grow stages. The endocannabinoid system is covered, as well as the crucial differences between THC and CBD. Cannabidiol is referred to as ‘non-intoxicating’, which is less contentious than the alternative description of ‘non-psychoactive’. The course goes into depth on terpenes, going through the names of popular ones found in cannabis, their smells, and how they are reported anecdotally to impact a user.
The course covers all products in the cannabis ecosystem, even those currently not available for sale, and clearly illustrates the legality of each kind of cannabis product. One thing CannSell excels at is giving a short yet broad overview of topics of which there is an abundance of misinformation. A course like CannSell that covers basics like these without specializing in retail would be a worthy undertaking in broader public education efforts.
The important topic of consumption is also covered, from smoking to topical application. CannSell comes down firmly on the issue of whether holding cannabis smoke in your lungs impacts your experience, in saying that it makes no difference. A clear distinction is also drawn between smoking flower and smoking extracts, and ‘dabs’ are also explained. A broad overview of accessories rounds out this section, including vapourizers.
The overall effects of cannabis are reviewed in the next section, and there are no overly contentious inclusions of effects. Blood vessel damage is listed as a possible consequence, likely referencing a 2016 study performed on rats by UCSF. This is likely the only claim to cause some students to bristle as the rest are fairly well established effects such as euphoria, red eyes and dry mouth.
The content is careful, when the subject of effects on driving is broached, to not imply cannabis consumption causes impairment. Instead, impairment in general is mentioned as a leading cause of crashes, and cannabis is mentioned only through the lens of being present in a driver’s system, not as the cause of an accident. The long-term risks mentioned are mostly in-line with previous government messaging in terms of memory and lung health being areas of concern.
A contentious claim is that second-hand cannabis smoke can be just as damaging as second-hand tobacco smoke. Researchers such as Fiona Clement at the University of Calgary have stated as recently as March 2018 that the current evidence does not support such a supposition.
The legal details of the Cannabis Act are also covered, with particular attention being paid to the fact that growing at home is only legal if the starting materials are licensed. The roles of the federal and provincial regulators are explained, including the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) acting as the retail regulator. The material gets another minute detail correct in explaining that no one is actually prescribed cannabis, but are given a medical document which is not technically a prescription. Other important differences between medical and recreational cannabis frameworks such as possession amounts are also covered.
Details of provincial implementation are also covered, including the basics of where one may consume cannabis in Ontario. CannSell wisely chooses to not present the slide as an exhaustive list and instead directs to a government website for more information. Provincial driving prohibitions are summarized, and students are cautioned to not offer any medical advice to customers, even if asked. Requirements for running a retail store from the licensing perspective are listed, which are a Retail Operator License for the operators, a Cannabis Retail Manager License for all with management responsibility, and a Retail Store Authorization.
The AGCO’s regulatory powers are explained, in short, as a retail cannabis employee you are required to cooperate with the AGCO, and they may take certain records off-site for further examination. The AGCO has multiple options for dealing with non-compliant stores such as license suspension and license revocation. An important principle covered at this point in the course is that anyone appearing under the age of 25 must be asked for ID, and this must be done before they enter the store and not just as they are purchasing.
Retail stores in Ontario will only lawfully operate between 9 and 11 PM, which still leaves Alberta as the province most lenient on operating store hours. The guidance on advertising restrictions is as expected, in emphasizing sticking to factual information. One interesting piece of information here is that any promotion must focus on brand characteristics or cannabis and cannabis accessories, what this will mean practically is likely still up for debate. Prices may not be displayed on the outside of stores, and retail store operators may not accept ‘material inducements’, which may prohibit Licensed Producers from offering merchandise or ‘swag’ as a marketing tool to retail stores.
Security requirements are clearly defined including camera coverage, recordings from which must be kept for 30 days. The AGCO may ask for access to these recordings at any time or during an inspection. The specialized responsibilities for management employees are listed, including entering into contracts and making offers of employment. In most cases, every retail store requires its own retail manager. In general, records should be kept for at least 3 years. Retail managers will also be the role required to destroy cannabis which also must be observed by the surveillance system.
We then hit the first major live-action video segment, where Robert Solomon, the legal director of MADD Canada reads out a large portion of regulations regarding regulation of retail stores. Switching to reading regulation/statute verbatim is a bit jarring and is one of the weak points of the training course. While it is important for retail employees to understand their role in liability, this material would have better been summarized in the same format as the preceding content, and perhaps delivered with some info-graphics that would have made recalling the individual penalties for retail infractions easier.
After this segment, the impaired driving goes over some points about impaired driving, and introduces the term ‘drug-positive fatality’. In stating that ‘drug-positive fatalities are the number one cause of death on our roadways’, the course does some heavy leading of the student into the area of causation. There is also use of the phrase ‘drug-impaired’ when going over statistics with headings using ‘involving’, which is another nudge in the direction of cannabis causing impairment. Despite these occurrences however, this section does not contain any other contentious bits of content.
The following section covers some legislative details of driving prohibitions in Ontario, and then the all-important question of when it is safe to drive is reached. The course states that there is no exact safe time to wait after using cannabis before driving, and strongly cautions the prospective retail employee from ever giving advice to a customer on how long they should wait to drive. Instead they are told to direct customers to MADD’s website or the CAMH lower-risk use guidelines.
The next section is Andrew Murie going over some guidelines and recommendations from MADD about cannabis and driving, is is likely the segment that will generate the most debate. 4 hours is given as a ‘minimum’, and it’s stated that research shows a low risk of car crashes at those blood THC levels. Andrew further states that the psychoactive elements of THC filter out of the body in about 2 hours. This section does address the issues of zero-tolerance graduated licensing and zero-tolerance workplace policies, a critical piece of information not all may be aware of.
At this point, another MADD branded video section starts covering core cannabis retail areas and exploring several scenarios such as refusing service to underage and intoxicated customers. More detail is spent than was in SellSafe here about how to check for fake ID’s, this may mean that stores in Ontario will face less of an issue training new employees unfamiliar with checking ID’s. This portion of video content is delivered well and is probably the section of most value for the average new cannabis retail employee.
This brings us to the most hotly debated portion of the course, how to determine if someone is intoxicated. The course recommends that if a worker suspects someone is intoxicated, they should engage them in conversation to probe more deeply. The primary signs of intoxication range from long established signs such as reddish eyes, to some curious inclusions such as abnormal sweating, with a large part centered around motor skills. The hosts are careful to emphasize that one stated symptom on its own is not enough to suggest intoxication. Obligations regarding observing possibly intoxicated customers out to their car or to the mall exit if the store is in a mall are mentioned as well.
The next segment features Dr.Danial Schecter going over some common symptoms of cannabis use, and emphasizing that prior cannabis experience of the customer is going to determine how they react to cannabis use, and that habitual users may be more easily able to not appear intoxicated. The content then introduces a category of ‘Other’ signs, ones that may not be used on their own, but only used to re-enforce the decision based on one of the signs previously listed. This is where the sign of disheveled clothing that caused considerable uproar on Twitter falls, meaning that disheveled clothing on its own would not be a disqualifying behaviour. The course does place the onus on those with conditions like brain injuries to tell the retail worker of their condition.
The course closes out with some guidance catered to new customers such as not recommending high-THC strains for those trying cannabis for the first time. The exam is a straightforward multiple choice test on the course content. It is likely that someone familiar with cannabis regulations and cannabis itself would have a reasonable chance at passing, which means getting no more than 5 questions wrong. After passing the exam, we’re presented with a certificate and a certificate number which will likely be required for future job applications.
CannSell is delivered in a similar fashion to Alberta’s SellSafe, but greatly broadens the content delivered beyond retail training. Absent in CannSell are some of the highly questionable medical claims such as impairment lasting for two weeks that were found in SellSafe. Overall, the content is well delivered and the exam should not contain any surprises.
CannSell excels in condensing very broad topics down into easily digestible sections, the overview of product types, and of terpenes was very well done and easily understandable. The training videos towards the end of the course are very well put together and engaging, with the most important types of situations covered such as refusing a sale for various reasons.
The weakest area of the course is the first live-action video segment, the content comes off as delivered in a very rote fashion and can potentially be dis-engaging. This leads to another critique, that the course could have been pared down, or perhaps split into multiple courses depending on the category of retail worker. In its present form, CannSell is likely something you’ll want to complete in at least 2 different sittings for maximum retention.
Much of the controversy over the course material seems to stem from a lack of clarification about comments made during its release. The course at no point claims to be able to tell if someone is intoxicated within 20 seconds, and disheveled clothing is only used as a confirmatory sign rather than a primary sign of intoxication. That said, given many of the signs stated in the course are generic, such as abnormal sweating and fatigue, the potential does exist for arbitrary decision making.
Overall, CannSell is an evolution of cannabis retail training. More comprehensive than Alberta’s SellSafe, it requires a larger time investment but also gives employees new to dealing with cannabis a broader base of information. Retailers will likely benefit from the attention to details around checking for fake ID, and the scenario section is a familiar way to deliver the core of the training content.
The major stumbling point in the course is the specific guidance being given around waiting for at least 4 hours before driving. Although this is not what will be communicated to customers, it does give some impression of 4 hours being one form of ‘safe’ time period, which may not be true given the current per-se limits.
In short, CannSell is a good course which improves on SellSafe, which could easily be great with a few content tweaks.