“You can’t throw people into this Wild West and expect success without investing in educational opportunities that are legitimate and up to date and well resourced,” said Papillion.
“Right now there’s a lack of knowledge for everyone in the [cannabis] space,” said Natalie Papillion, founder and executive director of The Equity Organization. Due to this uncertainty, it’s important to enroll in a school you can trust if you plan on pursuing a degree in cannabis studies.
Despite evidence of a “green rush” in the cannabis industry, you’ll have to work hard and be patient.
As of February 2021, the cannabis industry supports approximately 321,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. That figure amounts to an annual job growth of 32%. The cannabis industry needs labor, and these workers must have the expertise and skills to work in an emerging field. This is where colleges come in.
Is a Cannabis Degree Necessary for Career Success?
“The cannabis industry needs … pharmacologists, lab testing operators, cultivators, cultivation managers, and right now it’s hard to access that labor.”
As Fox said, “[Cannabis] course[s] and degree-track programs being offered in higher education are certainly going to spur more interest in the field as a career and will help drive innovation that could create all sorts of additional opportunities.”
While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and in most states, academic programs in cannabis are legal. But do you really need a cannabis degree? Probably not.
Are Cannabis College Programs Legit (and Legal)?
“For a lot of these startups and the private enterprises, there’s no way to tell what’s actually beneficial to students and what is snake oil salespeople,” said Papillion.
Ever since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, more and more states have followed suit. Marijuana is now legal recreationally in 16 states and legal for medical purposes in 36. With legalization, cannabis has emerged as an entirely new industry — and colleges and universities are taking note.
Oaksterdam University in California is another place to study for a career in the marijuana industry. The university advertises itself as America’s first cannabis college and offers certificate programs in subjects related to marijuana. Prospective students at the university can either opt for business- or horticulture-related subject certification. The business certificates cover regulatory and management aspects of marijuana, while the horticulture track deals with the intricacies of growing marijuana. The Cleveland School of Cannabis, which is located in Ohio, has a similar setup and offers certificate programs, as well as online courses via Zoom.
Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) has a Cannabis Studies program that provides various courses to help students understand all the facets of the marijuana industry. Besides classes in "The Horticulture and Botany of Cannabis" and "The Pharmacology and Physiology of Cannabis," FGCU also has courses on "Marijuana Law" and "Cannabusiness."
For example, a degree in horticulture makes professionals knowledgeable about marijuana cultivation. Similarly, a business degree can also prepare students for careers in the industry. Realizing the industry’s potential, even the prestigious Yale School of Management has jumped into the fray. In February of 2018, the Ivy League university’s business school held a conference to “discuss the opportunities and challenges of legal cannabis.”
More than anything else, the marijuana industry is a business opportunity. A change in public attitudes regarding the industry led to a growing realization about the numerous commercial and medicinal benefits of marijuana. For instance, cannabis is being used in trials to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for soldiers returning from war. That is in addition to the plant’s already prevalent uses as a medicine.
As states legalize marijuana, the business opportunities multiply. Research firm Cowen & Co. estimated that the weed market will be worth $75 billion by 2030. That will mean new jobs in businesses comprising a wide array of positions, from customer success to business development reps to chemists, botanists, and finance-related jobs. An applicant intimate with the industry’s nuances will be a natural fit for these positions.
The marijuana industry’s exponential growth in the last several years created numerous opportunities in the mainstream economy. But kinks in the industry, including regulatory ones, are still being worked out. To that extent, it is still nascent and needs a professionally-trained workforce to firm up its contours. Currently, there are relatively few colleges or universities that train students in this field. Here is a brief primer on growth prospects for marijuana-related courses and colleges that offer them.
The University of Vermont now offers a variety of online classes and certificates related to marijuana. Online cannabis science and medicine modules are available, with access to materials unlocked within 24 hours. Furthermore, the University of Vermont grants Cannabis Science and Medicine Professional Certificates and Professional Certificates in Cannabis Plant Biology. The certificate programs are fully online, and students can finish them in less than two months.
Why Does the Marijuana Industry Need Professionals?
The broad and continually evolving nature of the marijuana industry means that it is fertile ground for students from multiple subjects. To that extent, specialized degrees from other fields can also provide a foothold for growth in the industry.
Northern Michigan University offers a degree program related to marijuana. According to the school’s website, there is a “major gap in educational opportunities available to prepare people for this field.” Students at the university can opt for the “Medicinal Plant Chemistry” undergraduate major, which has subjects that include the business and chemistry of marijuana. These subjects include organic chemistry, plant physiology, botany, accounting, genetics, physical geography, and financial management. At the end of the course, graduating students are ready for careers in marijuana research or to open their own marijuana-related business ventures.