Cannabis Workforce Development Program & Evaluation Challenges

  • February 13, 2024

The nascency of the cannabis industry is simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. On the one hand, there is a new frontier of unexplored, high-risk research that could permanently disrupt the medical industry and create tens of thousands of jobs in each state by 2025. On the other hand, a pervasive shortage of peer-reviewed data stemming from its class as federal schedule I and the historical stigma associated with the plant leave researchers with little to no baseline efficacy or feasibility data. This makes cannabis projects notoriously difficult to study and evaluate. The case of evaluating cannabis workforce development projects is no exception.

Limited research

When planning a workforce development project, a good starting point is to review historical data surrounding similar projects and replicate their best practices. Unfortunately, in the realm of workforce development projects that target the cannabis industry, such data simply does not exist. While we can apply what we already know from successful workforce development in general to design a valid research and evaluation plan, many funding agencies, reviewers, and evaluation firms will be extra critical on such projects since they are technically brand new from a data and outcomes reporting perspective.


The barrier of stigma is a multi-pronged hurdle for cannabis industry workforce development programs. Participants must first overcome the general stigma of the product. Furthermore, for historically marginalized populations (which are often a beneficiary of regional or industry-specific workforce development programs), this stigma may carry extra gravitas as these populations have typically been the target of biases relating to substance use/misuse due to their ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status, or neighborhood. To add to this, many in this population are reluctant to enter or not confident in their ability to succeed in a traditional higher education model (which is often a large component of any workforce development plan). These stigmas can affect those overseeing or evaluating the workforce development program every bit as much as they affect the participants. The lack of reliable data on the industry’s long-term viability and the perception of potential risks can deter these professionals from involving themselves in a cannabis-related project due to concerns about their reputation or career trajectory.

Changing regulations

The landscape of legality within the cannabis industry fluctuates widely with time and location. This can make it difficult for program coordinators and evaluators to stay current on regulatory dos and dont’s. This is especially true for remote-based professionals, a practice many evaluation firms have adopted in a post-COVID world. Being remote means, evaluators could take on clients from anywhere in the world. As an evaluator, part of the responsibility is ensuring client projects uphold ethics and legalities. This can be tricky to do if an evaluator were expected to memorize the federal regulation plus each state’s rules, let alone learn about cannabis policy abroad. Keeping current on these regulations requires time and resources to maintain compliance.

The evaluator’s role in moving cannabis workforce development projects forward

As evaluators, we have a responsibility to ensure novel, innovative research progresses beyond societal manufactured barriers such as outdated biases and stigmas. Here is what we can do to be progressive in our industry regarding cannabis research.

  1. Develop toolkits and best practices for evaluation in the cannabis industry. This includes stakeholder and participant needs, objectives, outcomes, and consistent reporting requirements.
  2. Reduce and remove stigmas by being informed, dispelling myths, and advocating for the potential benefits cannabis can offer the economy and society.
  3. Promote evidence-based research and evaluation policies and practices to encourage the generation of comprehensive and objective data. These data can inform future policy directives in a way that is beneficial to the industry and associated research and workforce development projects.

Evaluation will likely play a pivotal role in creating consistent, repeatable guidelines to test the efficacy, safety, and benefits of programs in this budding industry. As with any new scientific concept, proper evaluation is critical to presenting clear and objective data to a skeptical audience and identifying risks or benefits possible to human participants during studies or programming. If you are looking for an evaluator with cannabis industry experience, please schedule a consult call with E.B. Howard Consulting here.

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