Marijuana Major – Students Now Studying Cannabis Degrees

As the cannabis industry continues to skyrocket, the world is being forced to catch up with it. Now, universities are beginning to offer students cannabis-related degrees to study the booming global fascination with the plant.

Imagine, only a few decades ago, what your parents would have thought if you told them you were going to study cannabis. You may have been laughed at, pitied, or perhaps even ostracised from the family.

Now, however, with the cannabis industry estimated to reach $31.3 billion in 2022, you would be a fool to not consider a career in the industry.

As of 2019, cannabis has created 211,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. alone, and the medical uses for the plant are growing daily.

As a result, an increasing number of universities are offering cannabis courses to their students in attempt to meet the global demand for cannabis knowledge. Though don't get too excited; these courses aren't simply about sparking up a spliff, opening a bag of Doritos and discussing conspiracy theories. Instead, they're serious business, involving hefty subjects like medicine, accounting, and horticulture.

In 2017, UC Davis held an undergraduate class called "Physiology of Cannabis,' before going on to release their 2019 graduate course entitled  "Cannabis Sativa: The Plant and its Impact on People." This was followed by the University of Washington, which had a class called "Medicinal Cannabis and Chronic Pain," and then the prestigious ivy league Harvard Business School, who even released a master-class on the plant.

So why are universities edging to add cannabis to their repertoire of subjects? Let's find out.

A Budding Fascination

In order to understand why universities are offering their students cannabis courses, the underlying context of the cannabis industry must be discussed.

Cannabis consumption is no longer confined to secrecy and back-alleys, as the plant continues to emerge from the grasp of the Drug War.

In the U.S., cannabis is now medicinally legal in 33 states and recreationally legal in 11, while also generating the fastest-growing job market in the country. Celebrities like Seth Rogen, Whoopi Goldberg and Martha Stewart have all capitalized on the cannabis craze, each starting their own signature lines of products and paraphernalia. And, as we're in Medicinal Marijuana Month here at The Green Fund, we'd be remiss to ignore the bountiful health benefits that cannabis can provide.

While medical marijuana as we know it is fairly recent, the concept of using cannabis as a medicine is actually quite old. In fact, evidence suggests that Chinese surgeons were mixing cannabis into wine to make anesthetics for their patients before surgery as early as 140 BC.

If we jump forward to the present, the medical marijuana industry was valued at USD $4.5bn in 2018 and is predicted to keep on climbing all the way past USD $7.3bn in 2020.

Helping with cancer pains, insomnia, anxiety, depression and PTSD, cannabis is gearing up to be a disruptive force in the pharmaceutical industry. Most notably, cannabis has made tremendous strides in reducing seizures for those with epilepsy.

Unfortunately, thus far only GW Pharma's has managed to secure FDA approval for their oral medicine product, 'Epidiolex', which has shown tremendous success in treating two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Dravet syndrome.

The reason for this is that marijuana still remains a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin and ecstasy. The criteria for a substance to land itself into the Schedule 1 category is to have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." Although all the evidence points to the contrary on both of those points, marijuana's legal status has added additional hurdles for researchers hoping to study the plant.

As a result, Epidiolex is instead comprised of hemp-derived CBD, or cannabidiol, which is a cannabinoid that doesn't cause psychoactive effects. Thanks to the U.S. Farm Bill 2018—which legalized hemp—CBD is currently taking the world by storm, making waves in the food, beverage and wellness industries.

Evidently, cannabis has already shown huge potential in creating new jobs, products, and medicines, all of which will only accelerate with increasing global legalization of the plant.

This is precisely why universities are hopping aboard the cannabis craze, so let's look at some of these green degrees.

Image result for marijuana class

Higher Education

The growth of the cannabis industry has been fast, and exponential. Jobs are opening up left, right and center, but employers are struggling to find qualified employees. Given the speed with which the industry has grown, most employees simply haven't had the time or the option to study a cannabis degree or gain experience in a cannabis career.

Allan Rewak, executive director of the Cannabis Council of Canada, has echoed these sentiments, describing a "legion" of cannabis jobs in Canada but not enough qualified candidates for them.

"Most people don't really know what actually happens in a legal cannabis business because it's all so new. So learn about the plant, the science, the products, the license types, and how people actually use cannabis today," Rewak said.

"It sounds simple, yet most people don't actually have this fundamental knowledge."

As cannabis credentials remain few and far between, Rewak stated that cannabis companies are looking to the tobacco and alcohol industry for qualified employees.

"Weed is safer but we need those people with skill sets and cautious points to come onto our teams," he said.

It appears that universities have heard Rewak's call and several academic institutions have released cannabis classes or courses, which are intended to prepare students for roles in this rapidly expanding market.

One such university is the University of Maryland, which released the first degree to study the science of medicinal marijuana and how to treat patients. The degree is a Master of Science, and the course is "Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics", which offers students field research and information on how to treat medical marijuana patients.

"Medical cannabis has been legalized in 33 states, including Maryland, as well as in Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico," said Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, dean and professor at the University of Maryland.

"This number is only expected to increase in the future, fueling a demand for an educated workforce that is well-trained in both the science and therapeutic effects associated with this medicinal plant. Our MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics has been critically designed to prepare students to meet this demand."

"Innovations in instructional design throughout the curriculum will provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to make a positive impact on communities across the United States," she said.

Northern Michigan University also started offering a four-year undergraduate major degree in Medicinal Plant Chemistry and the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver had a course on the "Business of Marijuana."

Stockton University has also started an interdisciplinary cannabis minor which gives students access to internships and the ability to research medical marijuana and hemp. Kathy Sedia, coordinator of the cannabis minor at Stockton stated that "most of the students are interested in novel business opportunities".

While depictions of cannabis users have typically been associated with laziness or forgetfulness, the same can certainly not be said for those that study the plant. The cannabis industry is a complex space that touches upon many different areas.

You've got the legal side of dealing with regulatory issues, the horticultural aspects of growing the plant, the business and marketing side of distributing and selling the product… there are so many moving parts in the cannabis community and this will only continue to grow in the coming years.

There are even some colleges that have been founded solely to focus on cannabis. For example there's California's Oaksterdam University, which prides itself on being America's first cannabis college. The university is split into business and horticulture subjects, covering the specific nuances which come along with cultivation and running a cannabis business.

And in many cases, you don't even need to deal with the cannabis plant to get involved in the industry. In fact, cultivation, distribution, and retail aren't even where most of the jobs are located.

As you can see, it's the ancillary market, comprising all of the non-plant-touching aspects of cannabis, like vaporizer technologies, security, surveillance, packaging… the list goes on.

We've only just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cannabis industry, so next time you hear someone is studying cannabis at university, don't scoff at them…take notes.

And keep your eyes peeled as we look further into the benefits of the plant this August, for Medicinal Marijuana Month here at The Green Fund. 

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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