New program teaches ex-drug convicts how to legally grow marijuana at local facility

Local News

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Youngstown company that grows marijuana for medicinal purposes has announced a new partnership that will lead to ex-convicts getting hired.

Riviera Creek has joined with a company based at the Oakhill Collaborative in Youngstown to train people convicted on marijuana charges how to grow it legally.

The three people involved met on Thursday at Riviera Creek to explain why they think it’s a good idea.

“We’re building out a cannabis, hemp hydroponic school,” said Dionne Dowdy, who runs United Returning Citizens.

The group helps ex-convicts transition back into society — in this case, those convicted on marijuana charges.

“So we’re going through the school and we’re going to give them business development. Then after that, we did a partnership with Riviera where they’re going to come here for mentorship, for internship,” Dowdy said.

“We think it’s a wonderful program,” said Brian Kessler, Riviera Creek’s board chairman.

Brian says his best employees have come with training, and that’s what the ex-convicts will get.

“You’re really encouraging people who maybe don’t have great pasts after they come out of prison to give them something that they’re actually skilled at, but now teaching them how to do it safely, how to do it properly, how to do it legally,” Brian said.

United Returning Citizens is running the program with a $200,000 grant from the Hawthorne Social Justice Fund. Ten ex-convicts will go through the 18-month program. Two have already started.

But can growing marijuana illegally be a resume builder for growing it legally?

“But people, they’re in their kitchen, they know they make good cake, then they go to culinary school because they know that this is an interest. That’s exactly right, exactly,” Dowdy said.

All employees at Riviera Creek must be vetted and approved by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ex-convict or not.

The hope is to eventually erase the negative stigma surrounding marijuana.

“We’ve seen the benefits for patients. We’ve seen that it hasn’t caused some of the issues that people may have thought there would be. None of that has happened,” said Riviera Creek CEO Daniel Kessler.

Brian also runs a company called SBL Venture Capital, of which Riviera Creek is one of the holdings. SBL’s newest venture is a new social media app called Meltalk, which launches this weekend in Ohio.

Meltalk is not texting and pictures, rather, it’s interactive videos.

The Meltalk app will only be available for Apple products initially. It should be ready for Android devices in about a month.

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