WASHINGTON – Once considered shady, the business of pot is now a billion-dollar industry, generating a skilled workforce demand big enough to make college curriculum developers take notice.
With retail sales estimated at $11.8 billion in 2018, forecasters project that recreational marijuana will employ almost 500,000 people by 2022. More than a dozen college and universities now offer coursework relevant to the cannabis trade, preparing students for a broad range of marijuana business and scientific careers.
Boasting enrollment of 300 students from across the country, Northern Michigan University offers a 4-year-degree in medicinal plant chemistry. North Dakota’s Minot State University added a similar program last fall.
Colorado State offers a cannabis minor, as does SUNY Morrisville, and New Jersey’s Stockton University. The University of Denver has several courses spread throughout its Business, Law and Journalism studies. Ohio State, Harvard, Florida A&M, and Vanderbilt also offer marijuana-related legal courses.
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For botanists, The University of Connecticut added “Horticulture of Cannabis: From Seed to Harvest” in their Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.
In California, the faculty of UC Davis included health risks and benefits of cannabis in undergraduate courses on the “Physiology of Cannabis” introduced in Spring of 2017, and they added a graduate course last fall: “Cannabis sativa: The Plant and its Impact on People.”
Not everyone is sold on the promise of big career payoffs for students who pursue pot-related studies. Alex Berenson, former New York Times reporter and author of “Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence,” said in comments made to The Daily Caller News Foundation that “much if not most of the employment that the legalized cannabis industry creates consists of low-paid retail jobs, and based on the sales hurdles retailers are already facing in California.”
In response to cannabis workforce projections, Berenson added “I would be beyond shocked if the legalized industry has a half-million full-time employees in 2022.”
Marijuana studies at the college level is not a new phenomenon. Since California first legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 1996, pharmacists have been on the front lines of cannabis education. In 2011, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists began advocating the inclusion of marijuana topics at pharmacy colleges. In 2018, the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy took a curriculum survey of 140 pharmacy colleges, and found that 44 included marijuana instruction.
Currently, only 10 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and 33 for medicinal. But the whole industry could get a big boost from legislation pending in both the House and the Senate known as “The Marijuana Justice Act,” which would clear the landscape nationwide by removing marijuana from the the federal list of controlled substances, where it is currently a Schedule I drug in the same class with heroin and LSD.