How can students interested in a cannabis career prepare themselves to enter the growing cannabis industry? Two U.S. universities will be offering cannabis-centric degrees starting in the fall of 2020. Here we’ll take a closer look at the curriculum and how these programs came to be.

How Cannabis Entered Higher Education

Legalization of cannabis is spreading across the country. By 2021, more than 40 states could have laws legalizing cannabis in some form. At the federal level, new iterations of the farm bill in 2014 and 2018 legalized the cultivation and sale of low-THC, hemp varieties of cannabis.

Increasing legalization has given birth to a burgeoning cannabis industry. This means new employment opportunities that call for a new set of skills. In response, universities are seeking to fill the knowledge gap by designing rigorous programs geared towards the legal cannabis industry.

Cannabis Curriculum: CSU Pueblo

In early 2020, Colorado State University at Pueblo announced that it would begin offering the Cannabis Biology and Chemistry (CBC) major in the fall of 2020. CSU Pueblo is already home to the Institute of Cannabis Research, one the country’s first multi-disciplinary cannabis research centers.

The CBC program curriculum will be similar to a double major in biology and chemistry with additional cannabis-related coursework. The program emphasizes two areas of study:

  • Natural products: a focus on neurobiology, biochemistry, biology, and the genetics of cannabis and other natural product plants
  • Analytical chemistry: a focus on working with chemical compounds including cannabinoids

The university has a Colorado Department of Agriculture license for growing industrial hemp, making the CBC program federally compliant. Although students won’t be able to work with cannabis strains containing more than 0.3% THC, they’ll receive hands-on lab experience with industrial hemp.

Cannabis Curriculum: Western Illinois University

Western Illinois University (WIU) also announced the creation of two new cannabis-focused minor programs of study. The timing coincides with the legalization of cannabis for adult-use in the state, however, the new programs were under development prior to legalization.

The school will begin offering the two cannabis-centric minors in the fall of 2020. The Department of Biological Sciences and the university’s School of Agriculture in Macomb, Illinois will offer the Cannabis Production minor. This program will focus on cannabis cultivation with coursework covering cannabis breeding, anatomy, physiology, processing, and commercial production.

Students can also earn a minor in Cannabis and Culture through the WIU College of Arts and Sciences. The school designed this interdisciplinary program to offer a broader view of the cannabis industry in terms of cultural, economic, and policy knowledge. The program curriculum will include courses in political science, anthropology, history, botany, philosophy, and religious studies.

Training the Next Generation of Cannabis Professionals

More and more states are legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis. As the industry grows, the demand for highly trained employees—especially in specialized areas such as growing, processing, and quality control testing—will continue to increase. Colorado State University and Western Illinois University are ahead of the curve, offering the first cannabis-centric programs of study to help prepare the next generation of cannabis industry professionals.