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By Likhitha Butchireddygari
Two major universities are creating the first career paths for young people interested in the business of marijuana.
The University of Maryland announced in June that its School of Pharmacy will offer a master’s degree in medical cannabis, and a new course is also being added this fall at Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science called “Cannabis: Biology, Society and Industry.”
“I advise a lot of students in a lot of majors and they’re all like, this is going to be cool,” said Antonio DiTommaso, program director for agricultural sciences at Cornell. “I think some of it is just a novelty, but it’s really going to be based on the cropping, the agronomics, the medicinal aspect, the chemistry, consumer attitudes and policy.”
According to the course description for Cornell’s fall course, some of the industry’s challenges include “establishing better agricultural supply chains, breeding research to develop more vigorous and disease resistant varieties, refining/improving farming practices and identifying new markets.”
Natalie Eddington, dean of Maryland’s pharmacy school, decided to form a master’s program after identifying a knowledge gap regarding medical cannabis for graduates going into health care.
“We have this burgeoning industry across the country in medical cannabis, and with that industry, there has to be an educated workforce, and so we tried to do our part to respond to that,” Ms. Eddington said.
Recreational marijuana use is legal in 11 states and Washington, D.C., and medicinal use in another 22 states. Legal cannabis added more than 50,000 jobs in 2018—a 74% increase in jobs in the industry from a year ago.
In addition to universities, the industry is also trying to create cannabis learning opportunities. Cresco Labs, a Chicago-based cannabis company, announced in May that it would work with universities to create cannabis-focused courses, offer scholarships for “people from communities most negatively impacted by the war on drugs” and generate research in plant science. Thus far, the company has partnered with 10 universities.
While Cornell and Maryland are willing to give cannabis a chance, many universities are not ready to embrace the industry. Don Boggs, associate dean of academic programs at Kansas State University’s College of Agriculture, said that he hasn’t seen interest from his students, which could be because Kansas is one of 10 states where cannabis is fully illegal.
“The cannabis industry is not something that’s been embraced by the state of Kansas,” Mr. Boggs said.
For the past few years, Karson Humiston, the founder and chief executive of Vangst, a recruiting platform for cannabis, has tried to lure workers on college campuses with varying levels of success.
“In 2015, I was going around college campus to college campus, setting up a little booth to collect resumes and profiles, and the amount of schools that just kicked me off the campuses, being like, ‘You can’t be here promoting cannabis jobs,’ was unbelievable,” Ms. Humiston said. “I think it’s getting better, but there’s still a ways to go.”
In the fall, Diana Ciechorska will be one of the first students to take the new cannabis course at Cornell. She already has started a CannaBusiness group at Cornell with a few of her friends.
Through the group, they were able to bring speakers working in the field to campus. Now, she is interning at Northern Swan, an investment firm that’s focused on all parts of the cannabis supply chain.
“There’s very little limit in where the industry can go,” she said. “There are so many fewer players in the space, so you can get further ahead in your career much faster.”
Young people today are more inclined to consider a job in cannabis because of changing attitudes toward the industry. Gallup polling shows that American support for the legalization of marijuana has been steadily increasing in the past decade and reached an all-time high at 66% approval in October 2018.
“A few years ago, if you had said to your parents, ‘Oh hey, I’m going to go to school and major in horticulture and then get a job in cannabis,’ people wouldn’t have taken you seriously,” Ms. Humiston said.
The marijuana industry also provides opportunities across a spectrum of disciplines, from plant science to business to technology. Interest in working with plants has made agriculture one of the fastest-growing degrees on U.S. campuses.
Some of that growth stems from marijuana, but the rise is largely fueled by increasing job opportunities, as well as a growing interest in where food comes from and how it can be produced economically and sustainably, Mr. DiTommaso said.