Cannabis Education Tries to Keep Pace With the Growing Industry

Medical and recreational pot are on the rise. So are careers in the industry. Cannabis-focused employees are now more numerous than dental hygienists.

Well, it’s easy to find academic courses for aspiring dental hygienists. Where do you go to learn to work with cannabis? How do you learn the properties and the benefits of various plant strains, or the science of plant breeding?

And what about the business side? How do you learn about managing assets, branding, personnel, production, and sales?

It would seem that all of this is closely guarded knowledge, supplied only to inner circles of people who were in the right place at the right time.

But that’s changing. Now, fully accredited education can propel you into the cannabis industry. The increasing legitimacy of cannabis, coast to coast, has created a demand for trained technicians. And it’s established a career path for bold, knowledgeable entrepreneurs.

Where to Find Cannabis Classes

Many universities are developing cannabis classes. Let’s take a look at some notable examples, and what’s special about them.

  • First, hats off to Northern Michigan University. It’s the first U.S. university to create an undergraduate major in the chemical science of medical cannabis. Medicinal Plant Chemistry is a unique, four-year degree program that teaches medicinal plant growing, analysis, and sales. Students take classes in chemistry, plant biology, experimental horticulture, and choose either an entrepreneurial degree focus or a bio-analytical focus. This degree is developing experts in the field.
  • UC Davis has introduced a course in Physiology of Cannabis, covering the biology, physiology and medical properties of cannabinoids. Taught by Yu-Fung Lin, an associate professor working in the physiology and membrane biology department within the School of Medicine, the course got a mention in early 2018 on the CBS Sunday Morning Show. It’s the University of California system’s debut cannabis course, and will attract students who understand the growing place of medical weed in healthcare nationwide. And now, Dr. Jeff Chen, MD, MBA is establishing the Cannabis Research Initiative at UCLA, focused on weed-based alternatives to certain pharmaceutical treatments.
  • In related news, the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine has opened an online Cannabis Science and Medicine course to add to the body of the country’s research-based knowledge of herbal medicine. Graduate level medical cannabis courses were offered beginning in 2016 by the University of Vermont. Students learn plant chemistry, the effects of cannabis, and therapeutic applications, as well as the social and political science of marijuana law.
  • The University of Washington offers Medicinal Cannabis and Chronic Pain, as well as continuing education credits for doctors and nurses, pharmacists, osteopaths, and physician assistants.
  • The University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business recently introduced classes in the Business of Marijuana. This is the course for you if you want to take the reins of a successful weed-related company. The entrepreneurs who formed pioneering startups will be looking for new executive officers to succeed them, and you want to be ready. With this specialized education, you’ll be able to compete with people who might have more experience in business, but would have a harder time making the leap from the corporate mainstream.
  • Many MBAs at USC Marshall, the University of Southern California’s business school, are particularly keen on the investment side of cannabis, with students interested in venture capital and paths to startup successes.
  • The Vanderbilt University Law School offers law students a course Marijuana Law and Policy, and the school regularly provides updates on the legality of marijuana on its website. The news site is curated by Professor Robert Mikos, one of the leading U.S. authorities on cannabis and the law. Prof. Mikos notes that about 30 of the country’s 180 law schools feature cannabis law among their 2017-18 course offerings—”a steep increase” from only a handful a couple years prior.
  • When you take courses in marijuana law and policy, you cannot help but learn skills applicable to other fields as well, including administration, tax, and political science. So it’s timely that Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law has introduced a seminar in Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.

Top Marijuana Majors and Career Paths

Master growers are in huge demand now in the legal cannabis sector, and a good number are earning six-figure incomes. Consider a degree in botany or horticulture. Extraction technicians separate chemicals in order to produce cannabinoids, making chemistry and chemical engineering very good majors to prepare you for a well-paid technician post. The startups in cannabis leaf and edibles usually have the business acumen, and just need an expert who can make an extract.

A food science or culinary arts focus will prepare you for a career as an edibles chef.

If you love the challenges of the startup world, especially in a vanguard industry, then founding a production, distribution, or dispensary business could be your calling. A business management or accounting major could prepare you for this, and so could a business focus at a law school. Managers of dispensaries also do well, with salaries now running about $60-150 K, while the owners can pull in $1 million or more annually from a successful operation. When you look at the “who’s who” in cannabis companies, you’ll find a good number of folks with MBAs from top business schools.

And don’t overlook your creative passions. If you’re a struggling artist, courses in sculpture, metalworking and glassblowing will give you pipe making know-how, and usher your art into increasingly lucrative spaces. Marketing and design skills count for a lot as well. For creatives, the possibilities are endless.

Looking Ahead: The Impact of Cannabis Education

Financial institutions, their hands tied by federal law, have withheld products and services from cannabis-related employers. Yet today’s students will likely see a transformation in federal policy. And the benefits of today’s boom in knowledge will be felt in areas from pharmaceutical costs to the opioid crisis.

No wonder Dr. Chen at UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative sees, in cannabis, one of the most promising social experiments of our time.

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