Black-owned cannabis brand Viola has launched its own education platform, The Harrington Institute, powered by another Black-owned business, the Cleveland School of Cannabis. Per The Harrington Institute’s CEO, Al Harrington, in Cannabis Business Times, the goal is to bring in a “new wave of talent” to the cannabis industry. One of Viola’s primary goals is to remove an all too common barrier for Black individuals hoping to enter the cannabis industry: education.
“We just don’t have the fundamental education to understand the industry,” said Harrington. “We see how negatively it impacted our communities for so long, [and] people just can’t really wrap their head around [the fact] that [they] can actually do this legally and make a career out of it.” Cleveland School of Cannabis President Tyrone Russell knew he wanted to partner with the Harrington Institute because of Viola’s reputation in the industry. Russell also noted that he and his team are excited by the prospect of combining Harrington’s ten years of hands-on experience in the cannabis industry with their existing cannabis education curriculum.
“We’re going to be able to create insight and deliver experiences and education that touch on the technical side that are going to inspire people and really give them some nuanced details on how to navigate this space and really open up this opportunity,” says Kevin Greene, vice president of The Cleveland School of Cannabis.
“This is an organization that always talks about how it represents the larger culture,” said Russell. “Following Viola and the work that Al and his team were doing, it spoke to exactly what we represented in terms of making … the opportunity for people in the industry that [have] been locked out of for so long… It’s bigger than them, and it’s something that they’re putting in the effort to change the culture and the industry, and we wanted to be a part of it in any way that we could.”
The Harrington Institute will teach the technical aspects of growing, processing, and selling cannabis, and also the business side of the industry. This empowers students to better decide how they want to participate in the growing marketplace. The Cleveland School of Cannabis has maintained a 65% job placement rate for its more than 650 graduates. Viola has established a separate curriculum under the Harrington Institute umbrella that includes three educational tracks: horticulture, manufacturing, and dispensary operation.
“We’re constantly evolving that curriculum,” said Greene. “We have to think about equity from multiple different angles. We designed the program and educational tracks, but we’re also allowing individuals to take al-a-carte classes so they can look at a specific class and say, ‘Hey, I just need to fill some gaps in my education here.'”
To bring that goal to fruition, Greene noted that the partnership between the Harrington Institute and Cleveland School of Cannabis will need to create broad opportunities for those historically denied higher education because of financial barriers. The partnership plans to create various sponsorships to address this issue.
“I just felt like this was something that was really needed, and the fact that I could work with people who look like me was something I was really, really excited about,” Harrington says. “When I think about the opportunity to really usher in the next wave of talent in the cannabis industry, I really feel like we haven’t been tapped into it yet.”
“One thing that we’ve seen in higher education … is that there’s still a large gap with individuals, Black and Brown, who can’t get the access to capital to attain the education that can change their lives,” Greene says. “What has not completely happened in our current financial aid system with traditional higher education is thinking about the long-term effects of long-term debt. Everything that we’ve set up, from the classes we provide to how you can take the classes to the financial support that we’re providing… is all through the lens of equity. We’re making sure that the education is accessible and that we’ve also created a culture to get people to be successful. That is one of the major steps in creating equity in the cannabis industry.”
As these opportunities continue to evolve alongside the cannabis industry in general, the Harrington Institute and the Cleveland School of Cannabis will also need to continuously evolve to keep up with the constant changes. “This education is going to create economic opportunities for individuals, especially in Black and Brown communities,” said Greene. “We’re glad to be a part of the journey.”