Spotlight: Green Flower CEO Max Simon

By WeedWeek
Oct 25, 2021
Art by Allison Campbell, @shehitsback

On LinkedIn, Max Simon often engages his 36,000+ followers in conversations about the cannabis industry’s pain points. As CEO of Green Flower, he focuses on one of them: the industry’s lack of standardized professional training.

Several years after Simon founded it in 2014, Green Flower pivoted from consumer to professional facing education content. Simon saw individuals attempting to break into the industry with no formal cannabis background, and companies struggling with high employee turnover and the lack of available skilled talent. “Both of those were real issues. People who didn’t know anything about cannabis were thrown into roles where they need to have a deep understanding,” Simon said. “That’s why the service at retail can be so frustrating, or product quality can be so poor.”

This lack of alignment also hurts the business and contributes to high staff turnover, with overwhelmed and dissatisfied employees prone to look for new jobs—or they are simply fired for messing up.

“When there’s no path for growth and development, employees leave. It’s not that hard to understand,” Simon said. “Training solves a real problem, and makes people better, more passionate, and more engaged cannabis professionals.”

In September, Green Flower launched GF Institute (GFI), an academic and professional membership body designed to bring standardized credentials to the cannabis industry in order to build a more professional, credible, and equitable workforce.

To gain industry adoption, GFI built a Steering Committee of more than 30 leading companies— including big names like Parallel, Cookies, Glass House Farms, Kiva, AYR, and more—to help shape, validate, and adopt these new standardized credentials, many of whom have already incorporated GFI curricula into their onboarding and development programs. Green Flower is now working with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to have these programs accredited, and aims to complete the process by early 2022.

The credentials

GFI launched with 3 credentials: Dispensary Associate Certificate, Cultivation Technician Certificate, and Manufacturing Agent Certificate, to focus on the largest sectors of people growth in the industry.

Each certificate lasts about 15 hours, contains 2 units of course materials, with the recommended pace of 1-2 hours per week.

Unit 1 is designed to satisfy federal OSHA training requirements for hygiene, contamination and worker safety, plus RVT (responsible vendor training) requirements. Unit 2 divides into three tracks: cultivation, manufacturing and retail. These segments emphasize skills but also devote some time to foundational understanding of cannabis and how we got here today. “One of the big arguments that’s so frustrating for legacy people is that new arrivals don’t know the intense struggle that got us here,” said Simon.

Upon completion, students earn an official GFI credential to proudly demonstrate their knowledge and credibility to their co-workers, customers, and clients. Plus they are automatically granted membership to GFI, which offers exclusive access to continuing education content, networking and career development opportunities, and more, with additional credentials and benefits already scheduled to be released in 2022.

In all cases, the goal is to give a solid foundation of knowledge to the many workers who are new to the industry or have been misinformed about it.

Up next in November, GFI is adding an impactful social equity engine that Simon says: “will power social equity education at scale”. It’s also in the process of widening the ring of clients from its steering committee to a new group of founding members. These early adopters can expect exclusive pricing and an “insider element” to their participation.

A history of education

Green Flower’s stated goal is to educate 1 million people about cannabis by 2030. Simon has a background in digital marketing, consulting and training. He was previously director of products for the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, which was started by the author and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra.

Before GFI, the company offered two main professional development tracks. The first, Ganjier, aims to be the equivalent of sommelier training for cannabis, creating an army of professionals who are the voice for true quality in cannabis. The courses end with two days of exams in Humboldt County.

The second track offers continuing education courses in partnership with 14 (and counting) colleges and universities around the country. These courses are largely designed for students and professionals aiming to get into the cannabis industry or advance their career. The courses are intense, hundreds of hours, on four separate tracks: agriculture and horticulture, health care and medicine, law and policy. Over 1,000 students have taken at least one of these courses this year.