Last month, Greenway University CEO and founder Gus Escamilla was frustrated. He was ready to build the "premier worldwide medical marijuana training facility," but he couldn't find a landlord willing to work with him.
But those problems are over. According to Escamilla, Greenway's finally got a home -- and it's also received the blessing of Colorado's Department of Higher Education, making it "the first officially licensed and regulated medical marijuana university that we know of in the history of our industry."
The department's approval isn't the same as accreditation, explains spokesman John Karakoulakis: "We're not an accrediting agency," he says. "They're regulated by the Division of Private Occupational Schools, which is part of the Department of Higher Education. It's the state's regulatory body in terms of occupational schools, which range from beauticians' schools to gunsmithing schools to health-care services.
"The statute requires that anyone giving occupational training meet certain criteria and standards -- and the division has approved them to operate in the state because they're meeting those standards and criteria."
That doesn't mean what Greenway calls its MBA program qualifies under Colorado's rules; that would require another form of state approval, Karakoulakis says. But he confirms that Greenway is the first medical marijuana school to be sanctioned by Colorado -- and because the industry is so young, Escamilla's claims about the approval breaking new ground throughout the U.S. is likely to hold up.
No wonder Escamilla sees this as "a truly momentous day for the industry as a whole -- and it opens a lot of doors. It allows us to give out transcripts, develop grading systems for our advanced curriculum, and students will now be able to use continuing education credits. And we're working on a student loan program. Our ultimate goal is to offer financial aid."
Just as important is the new campus. After our post about Greenway's landlord problems ran last month, Escamilla says he immediately got "five or six calls" from property owners not scared off by the MMJ business. Before long, Greenway had secured a location on Platte River Drive near Interstate 25 and Alameda.
"It's a 27,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility -- and because it was previously a school, it really compresses the time frame for us," he notes. "It's literally going to be an almost plug-in-and-play model. We've got some painting to do, and some walls to knock out, but most of the facility is set up with desks, chairs, computers, everything we need. So we could be up and running by late June or early July." He adds that a new website is already in the works and could be launched as early as week's end.
Some elements of the school may take longer to put in place, however -- particularly a grow operation, which will likely be governed by rules pertaining to recently passed House Bill 1284 that have yet to be finalized.
"We definitely want to work closely with the state," Escamilla emphasizes, "because we want to provide some really high-end polypharmaceutical cultivation methods and strain development. So that's going to take us a little bit of time. But it'll be more of a lab set-up, with students getting hands-on training, and that's extremely relevant to the industry. Our master grower certification is probably going to be one of the most sought-after certifications in the entire industry. Master growers, like winemakers, will be in huge demand not only in Colorado, but in every state where medical marijuana is certified for patient use."
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In the meantime, Escamilla reveals, "we've been approached by several TV producers for a reality show that would put a good spin on the industry as a whole, and especially the industry in Colorado. This is our home, and we want it to be the hub of higher education and information for the entire medical marijuana industry."
Greenway's got an event scheduled for June 19-20 at the Westin Tabor Center -- and Escamilla expects that it will be the last that will take place at an outside location.
"We've come a long way," he points out. "When we first started this, people thought we were nuts. They'd ask, 'Who needs a bud-tender certification, a master-grower certification?' But no one asks that anymore -- and I really have to thank the state and the Department of Higher Education for taking the lead in this industry and allowing us to participate in being an industry leader. We applaud them for their vision and foresight."