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Higher education

Mainstream schools offer “dope” degrees, programs

Colleges and universities across the country are offering cannabis-related courses and degree programs in science, business, medicine and law. (Getty Images)
Colleges and universities across the country are offering cannabis-related courses and degree programs in science, business, medicine and law. (Getty Images)
Tracy Damon EVERCANNABIS Correspondent

Not naming any names, but many of us made it through college with help from Mary Jane.

Today, however, students aren’t just using the plant for fun, but they’re studying it in the classroom. As legalization continues and the Green industry continues to grow economically, many colleges and universities across the country are offering cannabis-related courses and degree programs.

Some focus on science and research, but others are intended to help fill the many anticipated jobs as the marijuana industry grows. Academic programs are now available in many states, as well as online.

Among the choices are Northern Michigan University, which offers a four-year undergraduate major degree in Medicinal Plant Chemistry; Clark University, in Worcester, Mass., with a graduate certificate in regulatory affairs for cannabis control; and the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy with a Master of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics.

The first group of 150 students through that last program started in fall 2019 and ranged in age from 22 to 72.

“We had over 500 applicants for our inaugural cohort, and we have had a similar number of applications so far for the class that will start in Fall 2020,” said Leah Sera, program director. “We have students in over 30 states and four international students. About half our students have a background in science or medicine, and we also have students who are attorneys, business professionals, educators, and public health professionals.”

About one-third of those enrolled in the Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics program were already employed in the medical industry when they started the Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics program. Sera stresses that this program teaches students about the science, clinical effects, and policies of medical cannabis but not cultivation of the plant or hands-on experiences with consuming cannabis. 

Colorado State University-Pueblo created a Cannabis Biology and Chemistry four-year Bachelor of Science degree at the request of students.

“We’ve had a significant number of inquiries and seemingly a lot of new student interest including from students who are currently in a different degree program and are wanting to transfer in from other institutions,’ said David Lehmpuhl, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics.

He says a number of non-traditional students have expressed interest.

“The courses are quite rigorous and the degree program is not easy, so students who have been out of school for a while may have to take a few leveling courses to be brought up to speed,” Lehmpuhl said. “Students who think this is a party degree will be rather disappointed and we’ve tried to make that very clear.”  

Lempuhl says this degree is difficult for some because it has a high emphasis on science, with chemistry and biology courses required. Because of that though, he says this degree could qualify graduates for jobs in multiple fields.  

“Students will be able to work in a biology lab, chemistry lab, or marijuana or hemp lab, but will also be able to go to graduate school or a professional school like medical school if they choose the appropriate prerequisite courses as electives. We purposely designed the degree to be as flexible and as useful as possible.”

Other colleges and universities that don’t offer entire degree programs in cannabis do have a variety of individual classes. The University of California Davis has an undergrad class on Physiology of Cannabis, while the University of Denver has a Business of Marijuana course available.

Even the legal and medical professions are getting into specialization, with Vanderbilt University Law School offering a Marijuana Law and Policy class and the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine’s online course in Cannabis Science and Medicine.  

Right here in our backyard, the University of Washington has been offering an online “Medicinal Cannabis and Chronic Pain” class for health care professionals since 2015. This online course provides information and clinical practice guidelines on the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of chronic pain. It was developed by UW’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute with funding from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General. 

“Our online training is about the intersect of chronic pain and medicinal cannabis,” said Beatriz Carlini, Senior Research Scientist for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.  “Other medical conditions are not discussed in this training.” 

What is attractive to some about this online training is that it is often free. Payment is only required if the attendee is interested in a Continuing Medical Education certificate, which is only about $70.

For those interested in business degrees, Harvard University has been offering a master class in cannabis business since 2017.

A number of for-profit “cannabis colleges” have opened to offer both online and in-person certification programs in horticulture, business and more. Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., says it is “America’s first cannabis college” with a mission of “providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to lead and succeed in the evolving cannabis industry.” 

Denver’s Cannabis Training University bills itself as providing an online “comprehensive medical marijuana education.” Clover Leaf University, also in Denver, specializes in phytotechnology, the application of plants to engineering and science problems.

No matter what your aim, whether you’re looking for a foot in the door to the cannabis industry or to further the career you already have, there are many higher education options to pursue.

Tracy Damon is a Spokane-based freelancer who has been writing professionally for 20 years. She has been covering i502 issues since recreational cannabis became legal in Washington.

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