Michigan has a dynamic cannabis scene. On the one hand, state officials recently threatened to close down a bunch of dispensaries. But on the other hand, Northern Michigan University (NMU) is helping propel legal cannabis forward by offering students a new major: medicinal plant chemistry. In case it wasn’t immediately apparent, that’s another way of saying that students can now major in weed.
NMU’s New Cannabis Program
A small college in Marquette, Michigan, NMU created the program in response to the growing demand for trained analytical chemists in the burgeoning cannabis industry.
According to CBS Detroit, this is the first degree of its kind at a four-year undergraduate college. NMU hopes to become a major pipeline for the legal weed industry, which now employs between 165,000 and 230,000 Americans and is expected to reach to 300,000 by 2020.
“The need for this is so great. You go to some of these cannabis industry conferences and everyone is talking about how they need labs, they need labs,” said NMU Associate Chemistry Professor Brandon Canfield. “I predict that the graduates from our program are going to have among the highest immediate job placement of any of our programs.”
Canfield also said he expects to see students be especially successful among bigger grow operations that want to set up their own in-house labs. These companies, Canfield said, will need trained analysts.
Growing Interest in Medical Cannabis
Mark Paulsen, head of NMU’s chemistry department, said the inspiration for the program came from growing interest in medicinal plants as a supplement or alternative to other medical treatments.
“We have met any number of small or medium-sized business people who are making a wide variety of medicinal products,” Paulsen told WXYZ ABC 7. “In addition, the growing acceptance of medical cannabis and, in some states, completely legal selling of cannabis products means that there is a demand for trained chemists to help ensure product safety and efficacy.”
Smoking or growing weed on campus will not be part of the coursework, although that could change if laws around cultivation become more flexible.
“Maybe following the 2018 Michigan election, we’ll revisit that depending on the outcome and what ballots are present in that election,” said Canfield. “But for now, we’re not going to be growing any cannabis. We’ll be practicing extraction and analysis techniques in other plant systems.”
The Last Word: Students Can Now Major in Weed
A description and prerequisites of the medicinal plant chemistry program have already appeared on the university’s website. So far, 12 students have enrolled in the program, but since students can now major in weed, Paulsen expects that number to double or triple by next fall semester.
Michigan voted to legalize medical marijuana use in 2008. There are currently over 218,000 residents who hold medical marijuana cards in the state, which is up 76 percent since 2012.