In the fall of 2018, University of Connecticut Professor Gerry Berkowitz taught a new, three-credit college course called “Horticulture of Cannabis: From Seed to Harvest,” and packed a 400-person lecture hall. The course was so popular that Berkowitz developed an online version, and in July 2019, 40 more students nationwide began watching him grow a hemp crop from seed.
In addition to Berkowitz’s instruction, his students watch video presentations from industry experts on various aspects of cannabis business and law. At the end of the semester, they will all be three credits closer to their bachelor’s degrees, and hopefully to a lucrative job in the cannabis industry.
Berkowitz recommends his students come prepared with a basic science background, but cannabis is finding its way into humanities and social science departments as well. The industry created 64,000 American jobs in 2019 and is poised for at least 20% more growth in 2019, making it one of the few majors students can translate into jobs right out of college. Saying you’re going to college to major in weed isn’t a joke anymore; it’s actually a good idea.
What Cannabis Degrees Are Being Offered?
Federally funded state universities are now offering courses in cannabis across majors as diverse as agriculture, chemistry, economics, and journalism, which is a significant step in legitimizing the plant. No longer is cannabis represented on campus by stoner kids in Grateful Dead T-shirts in danger of failing freshman English. Now science majors are learning to make extracts and tinctures.
Currently, there are two schools where you can earn a four-year degree in cannabis science: Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI, and Minot State University in Minot, North Dakota, which both offer bachelor’s degrees in Medicinal Plant Chemistry.
“The internet has called this a cannabis degree; we call it a chemistry degree,” says Derek Hall, Chief Marketing Officer for Northern Michigan University. “You have growers on one side and users on the other side, and in between, you have these chemists who can answer the question of what compounds exist and at what levels, and those are the chemists we’re training in our program.”
The major has been a resounding success so far. “We started in 2017 with 20 students, this fall we’ll have about 400,” says Hall.
One of those students is Josie Mollohan, who says of the program: “Botany, herbalism and chemistry have always been huge passions of mine. I came to NMU to focus on Biology in the Botany concentration and was interested in changing my area of study to biochemistry. Once this program was announced, I was ecstatic! Medicinal plant chemistry is the perfect blend of all my interests. I know what I’m studying here will change the future of medicine for so many people.”
For those who want to go all the way to grad school majoring in cannabis, the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy offers a low-residency master’s degree in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics. Although the two-year program costs roughly $25,000 to complete and doesn’t offer scholarships, it also doesn’t require an undergraduate science degree, making it accessible to older students looking for a midlife career change—provided they can afford tuition.
Cannabis is also finding its way into the halls of institutions as venerable as Vanderbilt Law School, where students can now take a course on Marijuana Law and Policy, in which they examine the intricacies of legalization and regulation. And as the language with which we talk about the industry evolves, students at both the University of Denver and the University of Connecticut can take cannabis journalism classes.