North Americans are more curious than ever about cannabis; this much is clear.
As the continent's marijuana movement gains further traction and the demand for relevant information only continues to bloom, a growing number of institutions are offering their own takes on cannabis-focused programming.
None of them have been quite like the new ‘Medicinal Plant Chemistry' at Northern Michigan University, however.
The school in Marquette, MI is offering the first-ever undergraduate degree focused on cannabis studies. The four-year program will combine chemistry, biology, botany, horticulture, marketing, and finance classes.
Of course, students of the program won’t actually use or cultivate cannabis – but they will be able to choose between entrepreneurial and bio-analytical concentrations, depending on whether they wish to focus on the science or the business side of the plant.
Brandon Canfield, an associate professor in the school’s chemistry department, helped design the new program. He says it’s the first of its kind when it comes to a “traditional undergraduate degree” focused on cannabis.
“The timing [for this program] seems right in the sense that the cannabis industry is exploding and, at the same time, there are no formal educational programs dedicated to it,” Canfield tells Civilized.
While acknowledging the essential role “your Oaksterdams and your Cannabis Colleges” have played in terms of educating the canna-curious over the last few years, Canfield says a more robust cannabis program like NMU’s was a long time coming.
“Those other programs were ground-breaking, and we certainly looked at them when we were putting our program together, but... those are pretty short, targeted programs and there was really nothing focused more on the traditional student,” says Canfield, adding that the closest thing out there to what NMU is offering would be the recently launched one-year cannabis production program at Ontario's Niagara College.
“Our students are going to have a breadth of course work in all different areas to get that well-rounded, traditional liberal arts education ... Although we are trying to accommodate non-traditional students.”
Graduates of the Medicinal Plant Chemistry program will be equipped with the skills to pursue a range of post-grad options, says Canfield. While he expects that some students will wish to pursue graduate studies and/or additional research, others will likely want to open cannabis dispensaries or carve out some other entrepreneurial track for themselves in the ever-burgeoning industry.
“Because we’re just getting started, we’re not really sure at this point how many of our students will want to pursue serious additional chemistry work or how many really just want to get into the cannabis industry but recognize the need and the value of a solid chemistry background in that industry,” says Canfield.
“We’re going to kind of wait and see what our students are interested in.”
One thing the school doesn’t have to wait for? Applications.
Canfield says that ever since the news of NMU’s Medicinal Plant Chemistry program hit the mainstream media, school officials have been flooded with inquiries.
“Within the last month as the story has gotten picked up and run all over the place, the interest has definitely picked up. Our web traffic has gone up, along with our emails and phone-calls, and the applications are up significantly for this program,” he says.
“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback. We weren’t really sure how this would be received locally or nationally but so far it’s been good on both fronts. We're really excited."