Roanoke College adds its name to schools offering cannabis degrees as jobs beckon

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Roanoke College Professor DorothyBelle “DB” Poli typically teaches biology and plant physiology, but she also leads a seminar for freshmen on sex and drugs in music — often influenced by cannabis.

So when the faculty at the 2,000-student school sat down to talk about potential degree programs related to wellness and social policy, cannabis seemed like a logical step.

“The more we looked at it, the more we realized it was a good idea,” Professor Poli told MarketWatch. “College students love this topic. There’s also jobs everywhere for people with skills.”

As a specialist in science and culture, Professor Poli is helping the school become the first institution of higher learning in Virginia to offer a four-year degree in cannabis studies.

The faculty at Roanoke College has OK’d the creation of the program with two potential Bachelor of Science degrees, one in the science of cannabis and the other focusing on social justice and policy.

It’s one of a growing number of cannabis-focused career and educational programs not only at trade schools but also at colleges and other higher learning centers.

At last check, 24 states have allowed adult-use cannabis sales, with more expected. Florida voters may decide a ballot question on the matter in November. Pennsylvania Gov. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro has included adult-use pot in his latest budget proposal to the state legislature as a way to generate an estimated $250 million in taxes.

The combined U.S. medical- and recreational-cannabis market was expected to approach sales of nearly $34 billion in 2023, and increase to $53.5 billion by 2027, according to MJBiz estimates.

With this growth, an estimated 1 million jobs in the legal cannabis business are expected to open up in the next few years as more states roll out cannabis programs.

At last check, the legal cannabis business employed 417,493 people, according to the 2023 Vangst Jobs Report. The figure fell 2% from 2022 after a decade of growth, as the industry paused new hiring amid market challenges in more mature states and bumpy start-ups in other states.

California led the pack with 83,593 jobs, followed by 35,405 for Michigan, 29,925 for Illinois, 29,011 in Florida, which is a medical-only state, and 28,370 for Massachusetts.

“A confluence of factors — global inflation, rising interest rates, cooling investor enthusiasm, depressed wholesale cannabis prices, and a shift in post-pandemic consumer demand — challenged the legal industry’s
unrelenting growth,” the report said.

Cannabis-cultivation jobs comprise 31% of the total employment pie, while retail jobs make up 23% of all cannabis positions as the two largest components. Ancillary jobs such as general counsel and marketing, which don’t involve plant-touching, comprise 20%.

A director of cultivation typically makes $100,000 to $150,00 a year, while a retail director makes $100,000 to $130,000 and a general counsel earns up to $225,000, according to the Vangst report.

On the low end, bud tenders make $17 to $28 per hour and trimmers earn $16 to $20 an hour.

Also read: Cannabis stocks gain as Pennsylvania governor prioritizes legalizing adult-use pot

Michael (Mike Z) Zaytsev,  a cannabis entrepreneur and academic director since 2022 at New York City’s LIM College, said he knows of 20-to-40 schools and programs now offering cannabis degree programs or cannabis minors. Those offerings range from associate degrees to bachelor’s to master’s degree programs. Zaytsev said there’s no official tabulation of cannabis educational programs offered in many states.

Some studies focus on agriculture and horticulture, while others hone in on science and medical, while others teach aspects of cannabis business.

The University of Maryland’s M.S. in Cannabis Science and Therapeutics is one well-established program, he said. Other widely known training programs are offered by Green Flower and SeedCrest.

Also read: MedMen goes from height of $3 billion valuation to zero as stock draws cease-trade order and top execs leave

In California, which has had an adult-use program for about a decade, Oaksterdam University describes itself as the first cannabis college. The story of Oaksterdam and its founders’ role in California’s legal cannabis movement is told in the 2023 documentary, “American Pot Story: Oaksterdam.”

For his part, Zaytsev helps run undergraduate programs for about 100 students now enrolled at LIM College, founded in 1939 and formerly known as Laboratory Institute of Merchandising.

In 2022, LIM was the first college in the U.S. to offer a Master’s of professional studies (MPS) degree in cannabis after it was approved by the New York State Education Department. LIM also offers a cannabis-based Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree — a first in the United States — and will graduate its first class in 2026.

LIM students often pursue a combination of a business of fashion major with cannabis minor or cannabis major with a fashion minor, he said.

“My students have been very interested and highly engaged,” Zaytsev said. “A few have even told me that the only reason they went to college was because they discovered that it was possible to major in the business of cannabis.”

To be sure,  the cannabis business continues to face growing pains such as oversupply and layoffs in more established markets, as well as competition from illicit sellers in newer markets such as New York State.

As in any industry, there’s a potential for unscrupulous employers and managers who mistreat their workers.

It’s a challenge for schools to set up programs given that cannabis remains a Schedule I substance under federal law, and colleges must contend with regulations and marketing restrictions, as well as educating people internally about cannabis to overcome nearly 100 years of cannabis prohibition, he said.

For Roanoke College’s Poli, cannabis courses present an opportunity for Virginia to return to its pre-prohibition roots as a major hemp state dating back to 1619, when the first House of Burgesses required all planters in the state to sow the crop for rope, cloth and other uses. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both grew hemp on their farms, but historians have said it’s doubtful if they smoked the flower, which contains THC.

For now, Roanoke College has no projections on class size for its new cannabis programs, but Poli said she’s already getting indications of interest.

“In the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten 10 emails from students,” she said.

Also read: New York cannabis farmers may have to throw away 250,000 pounds of product due to retail-store bottleneck

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