What will the first weed degree program in the U.S. look like?

Check out the curriculum for the nation's first cannabis-focused bachelor's program.

cannabis plants
Photo Credit: Matthew Brodeur / Unsplash
  • Colorado State University-Pueblo will offer the first undergraduate weed degree in the U.S.
  • The program will include intensive coursework focused on chemistry and advanced biology.
  • Cannabis has become one of the fastest-growing job markets.

Weed can now get you a degree. A public university in southern Colorado has announced that it will offer the United State's first cannabis-focused major.

The new Cannabis Biology and Chemistry Program was created after students at Colorado State University-Pueblo expressed intense interest in the field. The "rigorous" science degree will include coursework focused on chemistry and advanced biology according to David Lehmpuhl, dean of CSU-Pueblo's College of Science and Mathematics. In other words, it isn't going to be a chill party degree. Dean Lehmpuhl emphasizes that students in the CBC program won't be working with anything that has a high amount of THC, the main psychoactive compound in weed.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education passed the university's request for a cannabis-related degree earlier this month. Lehmpuhl recently told WBUR that the response has been "overwhelming."

"I've been fielding inquiries almost nonstop since the announcement came out," he said. "There's definitely a demand."

A budding industry

The ban on weed, which was outlawed in the 1930s, has only recently started to lift. Though it's still federally illegal, cannabis is now recreationally legal in 11 states plus Washington, D.C. It's also legal for medical usage in 33 states. As a result, cannabis has become one of the fastest-growing job markets. Forbes estimates that the industry is responsible for the employment of around 300,000 full-time workers.

"We kind of looked at the industry, and the sector as a whole, and what was needed for students to get jobs," said Lehmpuhl to Quartz. "We have a lot of businesses in the area that are clamoring for workers." In fact, CSU-Pueblo is also home to the state-funded Institute for Cannabis Research.

The new degree is intended to prepare students for opportunities to work in chemistry, biology, or natural products labs. That could mean jobs ranging from CBD extraction to analyzing soil chemistry.

Though perceptions of marijuana and hemp have evolved over the last decade, the cannabis plant is still shrouded in cultural and political controversy. CSU-Pueblo's bachelor's program is not intended to be political or an attempt to legitimize cannabis consumption. It's rigidly focused on the scientific aspects of the weed plant. WBUR reports that Lehmpuhl wants the students to study the plant from an unbiased, scientific viewpoint that is neither pro- or anti-weed usage. He said that studying cannabis in relation to the human body, the industrial world, and the environment will bring new insights into the field, potentially revealing new "creative applications of the cannabis plant."

What the CBC program looks like

There's a cluster of U.S. schools that offer similar courses, certificates, and master's degrees in cannabis-centric studies for students looking to pursue the up-and-coming industry. Northern Michigan University, for instance, offers a degree in Medicinal Plant Chemistry with a capstone course named CH420 (haha). What's unique about CSU-Pueblo is that it is the first undergraduate program in the country to put the word cannabis in its name, which has resulted in media attention and a flood of inquiries from prospective students.

The major will offer two tracks students can choose from: one is "natural products," which places more emphasis on biological aspects of weed, while the "analytical" track focuses on chemistry. The program overview states that through the degree, "students will understand cannabis physiology and growth, the pharmaceutical implications, and the practical applications for the industry."

The CBC program will officially start in the fall semester of 2020 with courses that include Cannabis Physiology and Growth, Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology, Medicinal Plant Biochemistry, and Natural Products Extraction and Analysis. You can check out the program's full curriculum here.

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