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Ontario pot workers to be trained to tell if someone's high in '15 or 20 seconds'

Lift & Co. chief executive officer Matei Olaru, MADD Canada chief executive officer Andrew Murie, and Lift & Co.’s vice president of strategy, Nick Pateras speak at Lift & Co.’s Toronto office on Feb. 20, 2018.  (Lift & Co. via Twitter)

Ontario’s government-approved course for cannabis retail workers aims to teach students to spot stoned shoppers in about 20 seconds as they attempt to make a purchase, a challenge more daunting than identifying customers impaired by alcohol.

The mandatory CannSell training program developed by the Toronto-based cannabis media company Lift & Co. Corp. (LIFT.V) and MADD Canada is set to launch on Feb. 25, allowing the first students time to complete the course by the time brick-and-mortar retail stores debut in Ontario on April 1.

The $50, four-hour, self-guided online training covers federal and provincial cannabis laws, short and long-term health risks, product information, responsible sales practices, and even a history of cannabis in Canada. Passing is a must for store staff, managers and license-holders.

MADD Canada chief executive officer Andrew Murie said CannSell includes video content from a doctor specializing in cannabis to train workers to identify impairment from pot, alcohol, or a combination both, when deciding who to sell to in stores.

“You have 15 or 20 seconds to make that assessment,” he told reporters at Lift & Co.’s Toronto office on Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time on this. Because to be honest with you, with cannabis intoxication, the signs are more difficult to recognize than alcohol.”

Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario rules state that cannabis cannot be sold to anyone who is intoxicated, or appears to be intoxicated. 

Murie said workers will be on the look-out for people fumbling with payment machines and other abnormal behaviour when they interact with customers over the counter. He said smelling like cannabis won’t necessarily bar you from buying.

“The smell can stay on someone’s clothing for a long period of time,” said Murie. “That’s not enough to say that person is intoxicated.”

Dry mouth, disheveled clothing, aggressive behaviour, red eyes, inappropriate sweating, pace of speech and slurring are among the other signs of intoxication outlined in the CannSell course.

Lift & Co. expects to certify a workforce upwards of 13,000 by 2022, a figure that assumes 15 license-holders per store. The company has deployed retail training solutions in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, as well as through private retailers across the country.

The challenge of educating consumers is pressing as Ottawa prepares to open up the recreational cannabis market to a host of edibles, beverages and vaping products in October.

Lift & Co.’s vice president of strategy, Nick Pateras, predicts cannabis will mature into a packaged goods industry where in-store education is the number one influence on consumer behaviour.

“The ability to walk into a store and ask questions of someone who will help guide them through their purchase journey and make a responsible purchase decision is absolutely paramount,” he said. “That primary point of access is the key educational touchpoint.”

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