Program Would Help Marijuana Offenders Find Jobs in the Industry

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A medical marijuana cultivator is helping to develop a program that would allow those convicted of a marijuana-related crime find employment in the industry.

“We’ve always looked to expand our social footprint,” says Brian Kessler, chairman of Riviera Creek Holdings LLC, the city’s single medical marijuana grow operation. “This program will give them an opportunity to get back into the workforce.”

Riviera has partnered with United Returning Citizens in a new program, URC Grows, which is intended to provide mentorship, apprenticeships and training opportunities for those released from incarceration.

“We are now building out an accredited cannabis industry program,” says Dionne Dowdy, executive director of URC. Thus far, she has two students signed up and hopes to get at least 10. 

Kessler says the program would be open to those who have been convicted of a marijuana-related crime, such as possession, distribution, or illegal growing.  Riviera’s role is to build out the parameters of the program in order to train these students to become employees in the medical marijuana industry or start their own legal business in this country.  

The program also helps prepare a workforce for Ohio, as the industry could expand should the state approve recreational legalization of marijuana, says Samantha Yannucci, a consultant working on the project. 

Two Cleveland area lawmakers, Reps. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson, and Terrance Upchurch, D- Cleveland, have introduced a bill in the General Assembly to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana.  A parallel effort is also underway from the group, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, to raise a petition place the measure before voters in 2022.

“It’s at the phase where it needs signatures,” says Daniel Kessler, president of Riviera Creek.  “The goal is to approve adult use over the age of 21.”

Voters in 2015 rejected a similar push to legalize recreational use of marijuana. 

Ohio has one of the strictest regulatory environments governing the production, distribution and use of medical marijuana, Brian Kessler says.  That means the oversight of recreational cannabis would be equally as stringent.  “It’s working pretty well,” he says, noting that Ohio boasts about 200,000 patients who use medical marijuana.

Most importantly, the process helps ensure that the product is being produced safely, he says. “We want to see a safe, tested product. So we’re behind this.”

He says the recreational marijuana industry should be governed by the same system and rules Ohio has used for medical marijuana. 

Kessler also says he supports legislation backed by U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Corey Booker to decriminalize recreational marijuana. 

“Anything that can get safe, tested product into the end user’s hands, Riviera Creek is behind,” Kessler says.  As it stands today, recreational marijuana users in Ohio risk using untested, dangerous cannabis and those selling the substance can go to jail.

“All of that becomes problematic for everybody,” Kessler says. “If we can replace that with something that generates tax dollars for the state, controlled by the legislative body, works much like the medical program, and has social justice aspects to it – it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

Pictured: Daniel Kessler, president of Riviera Creek, Dionne Dowdy, executive director of URC, and Brian Kessler, chairman of Riviera Creek.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.