Majoring in Marijuana: Best Colleges for Studying Cannabis
The cannabis industry is in a state of steady growth. For students already with a background in subjects like business, law, chemistry, and plant biology, this growth represents great professional opportunity. And for students interested in taking a more direct route, a number of fully accredited colleges and universities now offer courses, certifications, minors, and even four-year bachelor’s degrees in cannabis studies. We’ve highlighted the top schools for studying marijuana — and as a bonus, we’ve included a ranking of the Top Cannabis Influencers and the Most Influential Books About Cannabis from the last half-century.
A few years ago, legalizing marijuana would have probably made our list of The 25 Most Controversial Topics. But times have changed. As of April 20th, 2021, medical marijuana is legal in 36 states. Of these, 16 states (and Washington D.C.) have legalized recreational marijuana. And according to a Pew Research poll from 2019, 91% of American adults believe that marijuana should be legal in some form, whether just for medical use (32%) or for both medicinal and recreational use (59%).
In other words, marijuana isn’t a controversy — it’s an opportunity. The cannabis business is booming, bringing in more than $13.6 billion in legal revenue for the U.S. in 2019, and generating more than 340,000 jobs. This may only scratch the surface of its economic potential. At the time of writing, marijuana remains a Schedule I illegal drug according to federal law. Economic and legal trends suggest it may only be a matter of time before marijuana prohibition is lifted throughout the United States.
Growing operations, legal dispensaries, cannabis supply chains, and practitioners of various therapeutic treatments are either in the midst, or on the verge, of realizing tremendous commercial potential. But realizing this potential demands real-world skills. So what does that mean for students who aspire to be a part of the green rush?
If you really want to be a part of the marijuana business, you’ll need an education. From cultivation to distribution, from business management to marketing — there’s a lot that goes into a multibillion dollar cash crop industry. If you’re curious how you can be a part of cannabis commerce, start by checking out colleges offering courses in cannabis, majors in marijuana, and degrees in dankness. Ok, that last one isn’t a real thing. But the point remains … what follows is a look at the best pathways to getting an education in marijuana and advancing a career in cannabis. And keep reading for our bonus lists featuring The Top Cannabis Influencers and The Most Influential Books on the Topic of Cannabis.
The Best Schools For Studying Cannabis
Now that you’ve been inspired by the impact that a few ambitious students can make on the world, check out a few colleges and universities offering legitimate pathways to a career in cannabis:
Undergraduate Degrees in Cannabis Science
Northern Michigan University is one of only three regionally accredited universities offering a full four-year degree program centered on the chemistry of cannabis. Northern Michigan notes that the changing legal landscape and the growing legitimacy of the marijuana business has created an increased demand for qualified professionals with an educational background in cannabis entrepreneurship. Northern Michigan’s Medicinal Plant Chemistry undergraduate degree is a four-year program requiring the completion of 120 credits — 30 to 40 in General Education; 89–91 in Required Courses in the Major.
Students will learn the business and strategy surrounding medicinal plant production, analysis, and distribution.
According to Northern Michigan, this rigorous degree program will provide a foundation in chemistry and plant biology and includes a final-year capstone experience — CH 420 Medicinal Plant Chemistry I and CH 421 Medicinal Plant Chemistry II — with a focus on experimental horticulture and analysis of natural products. Students can choose between two areas of focus — an Entrepreneurial Track focusing on business and accounting; and a Bio-analytical Track focusing on advanced topics in chemistry and biology.
Bachelor’s Degree in Medicinal Plant Chemistry
Minot State University is the second of three regionally accredited colleges to introduce a four-year undergraduate degree in cannabis. A concentration within the four-year Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry, Medicinal Plant Chemistry focuses on the extraction and analysis of botanical products.
As an undergraduate in this program, you’ll take challenging courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus alongside a heavy emphasis on laboratory work. According to Minot State, you’ll be required to complete more than 600 hours of lab work in areas such as extraction, separation, and analysis of plant material chemicals and compounds.
Minot notes that you’ll learn
the theory, skills, and techniques necessary to work in the medicinal cannabis, hops, botanical supplements, and food science industries.
Bachelor’s Degree in Cannabis Chemistry/Cannabis Business
Lake Superior State University is the third of three accredited schools to introduce a bachelor’s degree in cannabis chemistry as well as four-year bachelor’s degree in the cannabis business.
Lake Superior describes its bachelor’s degree in cannabis chemistry as
the first degree program in the United States focusing on the quantitative analysis of cannabis related compounds and contaminants including THC, CBD, terpenes, etc. Lake superior notes that students can actually pursue this degree as either an associate (2-year) degree or a baccalaureate (4-year) degree. According to Lake Superior, students in this program
may qualify for an American Chemical Society (ACS) degree.
Lake Superior’s baccalaureate of science in cannabis business focuses on the entrepreneurial aspects of cannabis, and is geared toward the goals of future managers, supervisors, and business development leaders for commercial cannabis enterprises. The goal of the program is to instruct in basic business management principles with a specific orientation toward the cannabis business.
Undergraduate Courses in Cannabis
Minor in Cannabis Studies
With New Jersey residents recently voting to legalize marijuana, the Garden State is an emergent front for both the ongoing legal debate on how best to approach decriminalization and for a new boom in growing and dispensary operations.
Stockton’s interdisciplinary minor in Cannabis Studies provides a foundation for understanding the growing cannabis industry, and for evaluating employment opportunities within. The minor is composed of five required courses: Introduction to Medical Marijuana; Cannabis Law; Internship Preparation, including research and small business training; experiential learning internships in areas such as cultivation, retail, patient research, etc.; and an elective in an area such as Hydroponics, Social and Ethical Considerations of Business, or Economic Botany.
Cannabis and Cannabinoids in Physiology and Medicine
Every Spring quarter since 2017, UC Davis has offered undergraduates access to a 100-level course called Physiology of Cannabis, which explores the ways that cannabis and cannabinoids affect the body.
In Winter 2018, UC Davis also began offering a 400-level course called Cannabis and Cannabinoids in Physiology and Medicine. The course is aimed at students in the biological sciences with a focus on elucidating the physiological effects of cannabis and cannabinoids on human organ systems and on preparing students to communicate the benefits and drawbacks of medicinal marijuana in a medical context. The course examines the biology of cannabis, the history of its usage, possible therapeutic values, and the relative effectiveness of various medical applications.
UC Davis also offers a graduate level seminar-style course called
Cannabis Sativa: The Plant and its Impact on People.
Cannabis Certification Programs
Cannabis Science and Medicine Professional Certificate
The Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont offers this certification for medical professionals, dispensary personnel, and regulators. Housed in the Medical College’s Department of Pharmacology, this is the nation’s first professional certificate in the therapeutic use of marijuana. The 7-week online program offers a comprehensive look at the subject matter, including units on the history, business, policy, biology, effect, production, safety, pharmacology, and clinical research surrounding cannabis.
The Larner College of Medicine also offers non-credit modules for independent completion on subjects such as Medico-Legal, Biology and Basic Science, Physiology and Pharmacology, Pain Syndromes, and Motor Disorders.
Other opportunities to study cannabis at UVM include:
- Professional Certificate in Cannabis Plant Biology, geared toward prospective dispensary personnel, growers, cultivators, extractors, and quality/compliance monitors, offered through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;
- Online Cannabis Science and Medicine Modules, composed of focused briefings on important aspects of cannabis science and medicine, with webinars on cannabis chemistry, pharmacology, and plant biology;
- Cannabis Past, Present, and Future (Pharmacology 200): a 3-credit continuing education course offered through the Department of Pharmacology for students with an interest in understanding cannabis and its usage, as well as key concepts in the human physiology underlying the medicinal and general use of cannabis.
Medicinal Cannabis and Chronic Pain
An online training certification geared toward health professionals, the first module of this course serves as an introduction to cannabis and its medical uses, particularly in the context of Washington State law. A second module shifts the focus to the best clinical practices surrounding medicinal cannabis, ultimately providing students with the knowledge and background to effectively advise patients who are considering cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain. According to the University of Washington, course training may be completed for Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit.
Using other degrees for the cannabis industry
Of course, there are countless other pathways to a career in cannabis that don’t require you to major in marijuana. A bachelor’s degree in business administration could prepare you for a career managing a growing operation, dispensary, or supply chain. A legal studies degree could make you a powerful advocate for policy changes surrounding legalization and decriminalization. And studying chemistry and plant biology could make you an expert witness in cannabis court cases.
You could also pursue a certification through a wide range of career schools such as Oaksterdam University, Clover Leaf College, and THC college. However, be sure to do your due diligence before pursuing a non-accredited degree or certification. As the cannabis career sector grows, a number of for-profit education institutions have seized on the opportunity. Be sure that any degree or certification you pursue comes from a school with a strong public reputation and a track record of producing employable graduates. And approach with caution any certification or degree program without regional accreditation.
To learn more about accreditation, check out our College & University Accreditation Guide.
The Top Cannabis Influencers
The cannabis business may be growing, but many of the most familiar influencers in the business have been repping weed since well before it achieved four-year degree program status. Using our Ranking Analytics to measure the permeation of influence across both academic and popular culture, we yielded this list of individuals who have had a major influence on the visibility, popularity, image, legality, or prohibition of marijuana during the period between 1960 and 2020.
The list includes major legalization activists and spokespersons, pop culture figures closely associated with cannabis consumption and a number of figures who have notoriously taken steps to maintain or expand the prohibition of marijuana as well as impose greater legal punishment on those guilty of violating marijuana prohibition rules.
Most Influential Books About Cannabis
A number of books have had a major impact on the public perception of marijuana, as well as the legal arguments surrounding either its decriminalization or prohibition. Using our backstage Ranking Analytics tool, we measured the influence of all texts on the subject of marijuana to determine the most influential books on the topic. The result is a mix of non-fiction texts advocating for marijuana legalization; non-fiction texts advocating for marijuana prohibition; memoirs from those with extensive experience in cannabis usage, distribution, and the legal consequences of these activities; and several texts whose reputation emanates from their eye-opening exploration of the psychotropic effects of marijuana and other mind-altering substances.
If you’re interested in a career in cannabis, but you’re not sure you want to major in the subject, there are a number of more traditional angles you could take, from pursuit of a degree in plant sciences or legal studies to a degree in business administration or medical science. Check out these top colleges and get started on the path to a profitable career in cannabis.