Illinois’ farmers of tomorrow will soon get the opportunity to learn more about the cultivation of industrial hemp and marijuana. Southern Illinois University in Carbondale is establishing courses that will teach students how to become a viable part of the cannabis trade. SUI’s colleges of science and agricultural science will oversee the program, and it will cover the various facets of the scene, including plant biology, engineering, business and ecology, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The university has been working for years to develop a syllabus in this field. The idea is to give the state’s farming community the competitive edge when it comes to industrial hemp and all things marijuana. After all, the state is progressing nicely on cannabis reform. It already has a comprehensive medical marijuana program in place, and depending on how the November election shakes out there is a real possibility that recreational marijuana could be next. There is also a chance the federal government will soon legalize industrial hemp at the national level. Some even predict that marijuana could be legalized nationwide by 2022.
Farmers and students alike are paying close attention to the potential of the cannabis legalization movement. Karen Midden, interim dean of agricultural sciences, says they are the ones that are demanding these courses.
“We’re getting this request and input from stakeholders, who are reaching out to us, telling us they need the science,” Midden said. “But we’re also getting it from students — current and potential students — that they would like to have programs to prepare them for work in these areas.”
If SUI can get the Illinois Board of Higher Education to approve its certificate program in medical marijuana, it will join several other colleges in preparing agriculture students academically for the coming of this new American cash crop. Northern Michigan University offers a four-year- degree in similar studies. It was the first school in the nation to organize a medicinal plant chemistry undergraduate program. The University of Connecticut recently began offering an undergraduate course on cannabis cultivation, and Pennsylvania State University is gearing up to launch an industrial hemp pilot program.
“Both of these crops — hemp and medicinal cannabis — show benefits in numerous areas, all the way from health and quality of life to having another natural fiber that can be used in so many ways,” Midden told the Associated Press. “We want a program to support this emerging industry. They need the science we can provide, and we are positioning ourselves to help.”
Now that Governor Bruce Rauner has lifted the ban on growing industrial hemp – he did so in August — it is full speed ahead on this aspect of the program. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has given researchers at SIU the freedom to cultivate 5-acres of hemp. The school hopes to put the initial crop in the ground in the spring of 2019.