Interest is exploding around cannabis research and careers. So how are universities around the nation responding to these demands?
What a tricky (and sticky) proposition universities around the nation find themselves in regarding cannabis. On the one hand, cannabis remains a federally illegal Schedule I drug. That means cannabis has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Schedule I drugs are notoriously difficult to study and scientists hoping to research marijuana at many preeminent universities must jump through numerous loopholes— while potentially risking federal grants — to do so.
On the other hand, cannabis is among the fastest growing industries across the nation. A Glassdoor report published earlier this year “found 1,512 cannabis industry job openings in the U.S. in December 2018.” That amounted to a 76% increase from the previous year, with 53% of those jobs looking for “professional and technical” workers. As the industry legitimizes and modernizes itself in the legalization era, where will businesses find such workers?
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Perhaps in any other industry, that answer would be simple—at the top educational institutions in the country. Until recently, universities have been reticent to unveil programs and degrees aimed at ushering students into the cannabis industry. But the demand has reached a point where even Ivy League schools have answered the call.
Earlier this summer, the University of Maryland announced a new graduate program around learning about the biochemical complexities of the plant, as well as treating potential medical patients through marijuana treatments. In addition, Cornell University revealed it was adding cannabis-focused courses around the plant’s cultivation and usage, while Clark University will now offer an online-only graduate certificate around cannabis regulation.
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“I advise a lot of students in a lot of majors and they’re all like, this is going to be cool,” Antonio DiTommaso, Cornell’s program director for agricultural sciences, told The Wall Street Journal. “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.”
While conducting marijuana research remains abhorrently difficult, thanks partly to the federal government’s monopoly on the cannabis available to scientists, universities have adapted to the changing ecosystem. Maybe next they could convince the federal government to do the same.