Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research was formed in 2012 at Cal Poly Humboldt, making it the first academic institute devoted to cannabinoid research and analysis pertaining to information and issues surrounding the cannabis plant.
Since then there has been a green rush at other colleges across California that have added their own courses dedicated to marijuana research, politics and policy.
California is said to have the largest legal and illicit cannabis markets in the United States. Since 2018, the legal cannabis market in California has generated more than $3 billion in tax revenue.
(Click on the names or images below to read what each person had to say.)
Professor Josh Meisel
By Viviana Hinojos
Josh Meisel has lived in Humboldt County for more than 20 years. He is a professor of sociology and founder and former co-director of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research (HIIMR).
For decades, the Humboldt area has earned a reputation for mastering cannabis cultivation for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Some equate it to the Champagne region of France, known for growing world-famous grapes.
“Most of the cannabis produced in Humboldt County is not consumed in Humboldt County,” Meisel said. “It is exported out of the area, whether some goes out of state or to other parts of California.”
“So we’ve had this reputation,” Meisel said. “And back in 2010, I, along with other faculty, recognized that we had to coordinate and share ideas around developing research agendas around cannabis, and that morphed into developing the Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research program. And the argument is that for decades cannabis has been what I would call the green elephant in the room.”
Cannabis is so strongly associated with the Humboldt area, Meisel said, that it makes sense that Humboldt State University would start HIIMR and propose a degree program in cannabis studies that has two focuses: environmental stewardship, and equity and social change.
“Fast forward to 2019, new university administration with an interest in innovation, and new ideas for the 21st-century higher [education], and how we can attract more students to Humboldt State,” he said. “I was approached by our former provost about launching a degree program in cannabis studies.”
Students who pursue this degree will study more than one might imagine, Meisel said, so they should expect a rigorous curriculum. He also explained Humboldt cannot teach students how to cultivate cannabis, how to market cannabis or how to process cannabis because the plant is federally illegal.
“What we can do is prepare students for careers where they are helping develop policy, evaluate policy, ensure compliance, and implement a variety of different equity initiatives that are being funded throughout the state,” Meisel said.
“Students will be able to identify the historical impacts of prohibition and socioeconomically marginalized communities,” Meisel said. “They will be able to propose equitable policies for legalization, be able to describe ecosystem impacts of cannabis cultivation and explain practices of environmental stewardship and sustainability. They’ll be able to use ecological and socio-economic data to represent environmental and social justice impacts in order to formulate improved cannabis policy outcomes, they’ll be able to critically evaluate how cannabis shapes place, both in Humboldt and around the world, they will be able to communicate in writing about cannabis issues from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.”
When it comes to what jobs a student will be able to pursue after receiving a bachelor of arts in cannabis studies, there is both excitement about the possibility of careers and obvious concern about how a pot-related degree will look on a resume.
If this program is established, students at Humboldt State can use it to fill jobs in fields like land management, advocacy work, journalism and numerous positions in the cannabis industry, as well as working on policy matters surrounding the industry.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement,” Meisel said. “I hear from a lot of students and they wish it was being offered now; they would switch, they would change their major. Faculty and staff and administrators are generally excited about it.”
By Lauren Berny
Nadia Brooks, 20, is a junior at UCLA majoring in public affairs with the Luskin School of Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning. Brooks is also minoring in environmental systems and society. And she is also the co-president of UCLA’s Cannaclub.
Cannaclub is dedicated to educating students on the medicinal uses of marijuana and how it can be used to help with anxiety, depression and stress.
“I first got involved with Cannaclub during my first year at UCLA,” Brooks said. “I remember they were having an event called CBD E-STRESSED.”
The event had booths where students could try different CBD oils and CBD drinks, and a yoga class called Papa and Barkley lit yoga. The club even partnered with local cannabis growers and dispensaries so students could ask questions and be educated on how cannabis can be used to safely deal with stress.
Not long after, Brooks began going to the club meetings and quickly joined and became an advocate for the decriminalization of cannabis.
“I grew up with cannabis,” Brooks said. In Oakland, where Brooks grew up, using marijuana was common within her community. Her family regularly used CBD products to help with different medical needs such as insomnia, stress, and inflammation in the nervous system.
“You don’t have to smoke cannabis,” Brooks said. “You don’t need to get high to witness and receive some of the health benefits from cannabis.”
Cannabis policy with information on public affairs is one of the classes Brooks took to better understand the cannabis policies and legalities of cannabis as well as the history behind it.
“The most common misconception is always a very common one amongst folks, [and some believe] that CBD and THC are the same thing.” CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is the second-most prevalent active ingredient in marijuana, according to Harvard Health Publishing. It is an ingredient that does not activate the “high” that most people experience when consuming cannabis. THC, however, is the psychoactive component of marijuana that helps create a feeling of euphoria.
“I would love to see the decriminalization of the plants, and I would love to see more equitable policies,” Brooks said.
Side effects of CBD are minimal, according to Harvard Health Publishing, and it can be used in many ways. Most commonly, people use oils, capsules, vape pens, and topicals. Topicals are for external use such as applying moisturizer on the skin.
Brooks hopes one day to work on changing the policy and legalization around cannabis and make it more equitable. “I’m very firm on my stance that the plant is essential medicine to folks, and I think that that should be decriminalized.”
By Lauren Berny
Jessica Fuller, a counselor at Mt. San Antonio College and Citrus College, said community college students may be the least likely to know about upcoming programs involving cannabis research.
Fuller has been counseling at Mt. SAC since 2017 and is now counseling students at Citrus College, as well. While she does general counseling, she specializes in athletic counseling for both community colleges.
“It makes sense to provide classes for marijuana research because there are a lot of financial opportunities, but it’s illegal federally, so there could be some challenging situations there,” Fuller said.
Not only is there a lack of awareness among students in community colleges, but there may also be a lack of awareness among counselors.
“I think it is still considered taboo, so I’m sure they would be happy to know about it,” Fuller said. “But I think students would be nervous to ask about it.”
Fuller explained that students she has met with have not expressed interest in these programs. Their main concern is transferring out of community college with their associate degree and a major in mind. Prep work for transferring into a four-year college focuses heavily on lower-division classes.
Another possible issue for students who may want to pursue marijuana research programs that are popping up at Cal Poly Humboldt or UCLA may be that certain lower-division classes aren’t offered at these community colleges.
“A lot of students would be interested in it if they knew about it,” Fuller said. “But they don’t know about it, so it’s not even an option to even pursue, and if they did, they would probably pursue it.”
By Bella Arnold
When meeting new people, Natalie Cox doesn’t lead with the fact that she teaches an Anthropology of Cannabis class at a community college.
The City College of San Francisco professor wasn’t initially supposed to teach for the cannabis studies program. Her academic background focuses on the relationship between anthropology and immigration as it relates to politics and religion. However, she had no trouble pivoting her studies to include the anthropology of cannabis when she started teaching ANTH 50, Anthropology of Cannabis.
“My research into religion and spirituality is where I kind of entered into my understanding of cannabis,” Cox said. “A lot of religious practices around the world have utilized cannabis recreationally and kind of ritually.”
Cox explained that within anthropology, there are different types of research academics can pursue. Her class focuses on viewing the anthropology of cannabis through the lens of linguistic, cultural, biological and archeological anthropology.
For the final, her students watch a movie about cannabis and are tasked with analyzing the content through all four aspects of anthropology. Cox says the students love the activity.
Though many students are interested in cannabis-centered programs, like the cannabis studies program at Community College of San Francisco, Cox believes the stigma around marijuana prevents students from accepting cannabis as a part of academia.
However, Cox believes that federal legalization of marijuana would be the key to destigmatizing the budding industry.
“Stigma takes a long time to fade away,” Cox said. “Students of mine who are cannabis majors have said that when they tell their families, they’re embarrassed.”
Though smoking weed is looked down upon in some communities, Cox says, things like wine tasting are seen as cultured and the winemaking industry is lucrative.
She hopes that as more programs pop up, like the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research program, students will follow their passion and pursue cannabis research as a legitimate academic venture.
Though the skills learned in the cannabis studies program can translate to careers like budtending, Cox says there are many viable markets for students who study cannabis, including scientific and historical research on marijuana and cannabis.
Additionally, Cox believes that cannabis is becoming normalized for recreational use and smoking weed will become as common as drinking alcohol.
“I feel like cannabis could be a better social lubricant in some ways, more than alcohol,” Cox said. “We find less violence and recklessness when people are high than when they are drunk. The medicinal aspect can be really, really powerful and potent.”
In 1920, Cox says that cannabis was available in most pharmacies in the United States. Currently, academics studying cannabis are trying to normalize cannabis as a common pharmaceutical as it was once known.
According to Cox, her college’s cannabis studies program emphasizes the need for inclusivity in the industry.
She fears that the growth of the cannabis industry will result in a land grab by already wealthy individuals. Cox’s wish is that low-income students and people of color profit from the cannabis industry, given that criminal enforcement has historically targeted those groups.
“What I tell my students is that we’re undoing 100 years of wrongheaded legislative policy that was explicitly created to target people of color,” Cox said. “All we are doing is sort of resetting what was normal.”
Dr. Dominic Corva
By Lauren Berny
Dominic Corva is the co-director of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research (HIIMR). He also helped author a curriculum proposal for Humboldt State (now Cal Poly Humboldt) to start a new undergraduate program related to cannabis.
Today, Corva’s proposal is still waiting for approval from the university’s chancellor’s office.
“My hope is that with this undergraduate program we are going to be able to supply both the industry and the regulatory industrial complex,” said Corva, who holds a Ph.D. in geography. “People who understand the history, culture and politics of cannabis, not just the economics.”
The rigorous curriculum for this proposed program includes science and social studies coursework related to cannabis, which is “not normal” for a bachelor of arts degree such as this one, he said. Classes such in chemistry, statistics and geography are included in the 60-unit program.
“Some natural science and not just in social sciences, and vice versa,” Corva said. “The benefits, on the other hand, is they get to study society through the lens of something they’re passionate about. It’s going to be about cannabis.”
The program will have two concentrations: environmental stewardship, and equity and social change.
“What the program can prepare students for, professionally, are public and private sector jobs, in cannabis and out, where care for people and the planet are necessary for industry growth and profit,” Corva said. “The national conversation about how we legalize cannabis is also the global conversation about how we do business in a world that’s falling apart.”
When cannabis was first legalized in California in 2016, Corva recalls those pushed into positions in the public sector who had to become cannabis experts immediately hit a steep learning curve. He said there was a need for people like Nicole Elliot, who is currently the Director of the Department of Cannabis Control in California. They needed people who were consultants and people who are environmentally and socially conscious when it comes to cannabis.
“They can be equity program administrators, environmental compliance officers, policy advisers, consultants, lawyers, ethical supply chain specialists,” Corva said. “The best jobs in cannabis are the careers that aren’t just about cannabis.”
By Megan Tagami
When asked about why he became interested in cannabis as a researcher, Robert Solomon laughed.
“I grew up in the 1960s,” said Solomon, a distinguished clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. “We were all interested as students.”
However, once the ’60s ended, Solomon remained interested in cannabis as a field of study after it became legal in California and more research studies began exploring the substance’s medical effects.
Following California’s decision to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016, UCI became the first UC campus to establish a medical-legal partnership to research cannabis, Solomon said. As a representative from the law school, Solomon helped to forge the partnership and became the co-director of the UCI Center for the Study of Cannabis.
“I can’t talk about what’s good policy without knowing what the medical effects are,” Solomon said.
The UCI Center does not advocate for cannabis. Rather, it aims to expand medical studies while also offering policy solutions to prevent the federal government from impeding cannabis research, Solomon added.
State and federal laws have posed a recurring challenge for Solomon and his colleagues. California law has permitted the use of medical marijuana for more than 25 years. However, the Golden State has also been in conflict with federal law for the same amount of time.
Because UCI and state universities are concerned about any activity that could be considered a violation of federal law, Solomon said the UCI Center has had a hard time securing grants that are not provided by the state, adding that he and his colleagues have had to give up a substantial donation in the past.
“Any donation that comes from a cannabis industry source makes the university nervous because it’s illegal under federal law,” Solomon said. “So the notion that the university is taking money that is the result of sale of an illegal drug, even though legal in the state of California, makes people nervous. Universities are risk-averse.”
Growers and sellers in the industry also face restrictions, Solomon said. Namely, while state law allows both medical and recreational cannabis, it also enables municipalities to veto the establishment of any cannabis farms and dispensaries. As a result, cannabis is legally sold in only 20% of the state, allowing for continued competition between legal sales and the black market.
“The notion that California is an open cannabis state is a myth,” Solomon said. “It’s a big state, and there are large areas where you can’t get anything.”
However, despite the legal challenges, Solomon said cannabis is emerging as a new, interdisciplinary field capable of providing rewarding and potentially lucrative careers. From studying the environmental impacts of growing cannabis to creating new taxation policies and potency regulations, the industry produces a wide range of questions and research topics that college graduates must be prepared to explore.
Although Solomon and his colleagues offer courses in cannabis in their respective departments, UCI does not offer a major in cannabis studies. In addition to having some concerns about teaching others how to produce crops that are illegal at the federal level, the university currently lacks enough specialized courses in cannabis that could make up a four-year degree, Solomon added.
However, Solomon said he believes that the university will eventually begin offering degrees in cannabis, especially because the University of California Office of the President has expressed interest in the subject.
Sooner than later, he said, the university must incorporate cannabis into its curriculum.
“We have all kinds of problems that we’re working out,” Solomon said, “and it will probably take 10 years, but we have to be teaching this stuff.”
By Raya Torres
When Julianna Montano began attending the University of Southern California, she never thought that she would one day become the president of the cannabis club.
The 20-year-old junior, who is double majoring in Philosophy, Politics of Law, and Pharmacology and Drug Development, said that joining and leading the Cannabis at USC club has changed her life because it helped her bridge her two areas of study together.
“When I was at a crossroads in my life and felt really directionless, I was like, ‘I got to do something to reconcile my two disciplines and make it fun for myself again,’” Montano said. “I looked at cannabis and I knew nothing about it. I decided that it would be a plunge and it would be a great challenge for me to seek out something emerging and alluring.”
Montano said that her interest in cannabis developed during a difficult period in her life. After deciding to also pursue pharmacology in addition to her law degree, Montano said she began to feel dispassionate about her education. At the time, she freelanced at a marketing agency which limited her artistry. These things, she said, led her into a deep depression.
“I felt like I was constantly constrained and constantly reporting back to people about what they wanted,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of autonomy, which is extremely important for bolstering my own creativity and entrepreneurship.”
As Montano started researching cannabis, she recognized the financial opportunity in the emerging industry. This is what pushed her to join the cannabis club at her school. Her newfound interest made her appreciate both her fields of study and brought out parts of herself that were lost during her depression.
“Once you get caught up in that whirlwind of trying to be really successful in higher academia and lose sight of what you’re actually passionate about, it can be extremely dangerous,” she said. “Being part of the cannabis club allowed me to tap into the parts that I really enjoyed about myself in the past, like my creative side and entrepreneurial side.”
Now, Montano is an intern at a neurogenomics research firm. She is helping develop a DNA test that will test a person’s suitability for cannabis and other traditional pharmaceuticals.
Montano told her parents about her interest in cannabis by explaining that as a pharmacology student, she needed to focus on a particular sector. She explained that she was particularly interested in cannabis because it was a topic that concerned both of her areas of study. Growing up as the only child in a conservative Filipino family, Montano said that despite her worries about how her family would react, she was adamant about being part of the club.
“They knew that my passion for this overcame the fear I had of their disapproval,” Montano said. “When I started being involved in it and doing events every week, they were like ‘Oh God, it is so much bigger than we anticipated.’ I think they’re proud of me because they know I’m making the right decision for myself. At least I hope so.”
Although Montano is passionate about cannabis, she said that her peers can sometimes struggle to understand her interest in it.
“It’s funny because to older generations, I have to justify the legitimacy and the value of my work. But to younger generations, I have to justify that I’m not doing this so I could get stoned every day,” she said. “Part of the challenge of working in the cannabis industry is that you have to constantly educate people. When you’re speaking with other people in the cannabis community, they really get it, but you don’t really have those conversations outside of that circle.”
Montano hopes that more college students will be open to learning more about cannabis because it is a growing industry. She also hopes that through organizing more events and networking with business owners who specialize in cannabis products, she can do her part to increase discussion about cannabis on college campuses.
“I feel like college students now are entering a legal market that they can be more mindful of because they’re not hindered by years of that stigma and propaganda,” Montano said. “Cannabis is still a federally illegal drug, and I don’t think we’re going to see legalization in this administration. In the meantime, we need to start bootstrapping and preparing students for an industry that will be 10 times more different once it is legalized.”
By Raya Torres
As a neuroscientist, Yu-Fung Lin was interested in cannabis because she wanted to understand the effects of the substance on the human brain. Since 2017, Lin has shared her knowledge on cannabis by offering an upper-division undergraduate course and a medical school elective on the effects of cannabinoids on brain cells at the University of California Davis.
“Teaching the courses is a way I can bridge my research and passion with the courses I am offering,” Lin said. “I think, down the road, this will be even more helpful to students. There’s really not much information out there. Particularly in science research, this is really an area which requires people to study and develop.”
When Lin introduced her courses in the spring quarter of 2017, she said there were few universities and professors teaching about cannabis. Lin said that she has since realized the value of having cannabis-related courses in universities because her students not only learn more about the substance, but they can appreciate and understand potential beneficial effects on the human body, too.
“We help students understand how the systems in our body become responsive to cannabis extracts,” she said. “This helps the students make a more educated decision on how to consume it, whether it’s a medical reason or recreational reason.”
Since offering these courses, Lin was asked by several students to write recommendation letters for them. Some of her students have been accepted to pharmacy and medical schools around the country. One of her former students, who was one of the first who took her undergraduate cannabis course, now has a job in the cannabis industry.
“My student said that my course was helpful in preparing him,” Lin said. “I don’t have many examples like that, but I do think that if I can be of help, that’s something that will make me very proud. I’m just a little part of helping them approach what they want to do.”
Lin said that she is in the process of designing an introductory cannabinoid course that can be taught to students who are not majoring in sciences. She said she previously received emails from nonscience majors requesting to take her upper-division course because they were interested in learning more about cannabis.
The cannabis courses Lin currently teaches were designed for students with a scientific understanding. However, Lin hopes that an introductory course will help students who are interested in cannabis to understand how it works and how to responsibly use it.
By Erik Adams
When most people hear the term cannabis studies, they might think of growing pot or selling weed. But today more people are talking about the medicinal benefits of legal marijuana, from pain relief to appetite stimulant to mental health aid.
J. Dawgert-Carlin, department chair of behavioral sciences at City College of San Francisco, helped jumpstart the cannabis studies program at the school two years ago.
“This is way deeper than a bong and a vape,” Dawgert-Carlin said about the program.
“We look at cannabis not simply as a commodity, or as a business, or a psychoactive substance, but rather as an organizing principle for understanding multiple intersecting ideas in social phenomena.”
To Dawgert-Carlin, cannabis is an “amazing lens for us to understand much larger social issues,” which creates an approachable introduction to certain subjects, such as social justice and legal policy, for some students.
“They’re like ‘Hey, weed, great!,’” Dawgert-Carlin said, “And then, all of the sudden, you’ve led them into these amazing conversations.”
After the cannabis studies program started, faculty reached out to Humboldt State to encourage development of a bachelor’s program for the major.
The university quickly agreed to the request and began working closely with CCSF.
“They’ve now developed a bachelor’s degree that they are in the process of finishing so that our students can transfer and get a [related] four-year degree,” Dawgert-Carlin said.
While the business part of the cannabis conversation is an important one, Dawgert-Carlin doesn’t want to obscure the greater historical, political and social context of cannabis.
“If we’re only talking about it as a business and a commodity,” they said, “we’re colluding with a specific narrative that is continuing to marginalize people who have been harmed by the war on drugs.”
But by no means, Dawgert-Carlin said, does the program dismiss the business angle of cannabis. In fact, there’s a concerted effort to link the wide-reaching studies to the industry.
Dawgert-Carlin and their department have been working with CCSF’s City Extension program, which offers not-for-credit workshops taught by professionals. The workshops home in on the branding, legality and finance side of things.
“We’re hoping these students become thought leaders in the cannabis industry down the line,” Dawgert-Carlin said.
“The people who are kind of eye-rolling about these degrees,” Dawgert-Carlin said, “I think they would be really impressed with the kind of conversations that are happening in these classrooms.”
By Raya Torres
Tatum Verona, a 20-year-old junior studying neuroscience at the University of Southern California, is an executive board member of Cannabis at USC. She says that this is the “most rewarding club” she has ever been a part of.
“At the end of the day, you want to be a part of something you enjoy,” Verona said. “We really work hard. I could see how passionate the members were in each of their fields. Seeing my fellow members talk so confidently and have so many creative ideas, I was like, ‘OK, I have to do this now.’”
Verona is the current director of community relations for her club. She said that she hopes that she can educate other students not only about the beneficial effects of cannabis and the growing industry, but also about its cultural and historical aspects as well.
“There’s not a lot of education surrounding cannabis and I definitely want to expand my knowledge,” she said. “Being offered the position as director of community relations was a really big deal to me because I could find a way to integrate students with their own community and reduce stigma by researching and doing all these amazing things. It was a no-brainer.”
Verona is particularly interested in alternative therapies and hopes to pursue a career that will bridge her interests in both cannabis and mental health.
Verona said that she used to be worried about how she would be viewed by potential employers due to her involvement with the club. Although Verona admits that she still has these worries, she said that she tries to overcome them by reminding herself of the work she has done with Cannabis at USC.
“My concern is, will being a part of this club affect the chances of me landing a job?” she said. “The stigma has been so deeply ingrained from growing up and even to this day, but it’s a good personal challenge to me to fight it head-on when I know there are so many amazing projects I’ve worked on. I don’t want to let the word ‘cannabis’ hold me back.”
Verona said that she is grateful for the support she receives from her family. She said that her parents were always open about alcohol use and other risks she faced while growing up, and she appreciates that they trusted her to make her own decisions about college and marijuana.
She recalled the time she told her father about her involvement with her club.
“I remember telling my father and he just started laughing. Not in a mocking way, but he was surprised that this kind of club exists,” she said. “Once I told him about the projects I was working on, such as a charity fundraiser or when we raised a bunch of donations for a homeless shelter, he was like ‘Oh wow, OK, you’re actually making a difference and you’re engaging with the community. That’s pretty cool.’”
Verona said that she is excited to continue her involvement with the club, learn more about cannabis and become a part of the industry one day.
“What I’m personally working on is not focusing on having to defend the club,” she said. “The club can speak for itself, especially within the next year while I’m still at USC. Right now, it feels like a lot of us are having to prove ourselves, so I hope the goal would be to not feel that way in the future.”
By Megan Tagami
For Avis Bulbulyan, the cannabis industry is no different from any other business seeking to hire recent college graduates. Like many other employers, Bulbulyan values workers with a firm grasp of business, accounting, marketing and other professional skills — but also needs his employees to understand how their expertise applies to the maze of regulations and legal nuances associated with cannabis.
“The most successful people in the space aren’t the ones who learn how to grow cannabis or have been lifelong smokers,” said Bulbulyan, the CEO of SIVA Enterprises, a consulting company based in Glendale. The company focuses on helping business owners across the U.S. obtain cannabis regulatory licenses and permits. “It’s the people that take what they know and what they do,” he said, “their professional personal experiences, and apply it to this industry.”
Many of his employees develop specialized knowledge about the cannabis industry on the job, Bulbulyan said. This hands-on education is critical for workers, as not everyone currently has the opportunity to develop cannabis expertise in college.
“A lot of people look at the space like, ‘I’ve been exposed to cannabis my whole life,’” Bulbulyan said. “OK, but none of that really prepares you for the compliance issues, the regulatory issues or navigating the marketing issues.”
Colleges now face a key opportunity to prepare students for the growing industry, Bulbulyan said.
Many colleges in this space are 90% of the way there, he said, and they just need to add specialized courses on cannabis to their traditional curricula, while also providing opportunities for cannabis certification to make their students more competitive in the market.
Currently, the state of California prioritizes providing cannabis licenses to communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. However, Bulbulyan added, many eligible people lack the specialized knowledge needed to navigate the industry’s rigorous regulations, fundraise and operate successful businesses.
Without these educational opportunities, Bulbulyan added, issuing licenses just creates false hope.
“It all starts with education,” Bulbulyan said. “If you don’t have any schooling experience and I give you a piece of paper that says it’s a license, can you go out and raise millions of dollars to set up your business? Can you operate in an environment that’s got every regulatory restriction that you can think of? It’s going to be incredibly difficult for you to do that.”
When asked whether parents and students should consider four-year degrees in cannabis as a viable course of study, Bulbulyan has two responses — yes and no.
As a new field, cannabis offers a tremendous number of career paths, as well as good pay and benefits, Bulbulyan said. He estimates that the industry may represent up to 600,000 jobs. Moreover, because of the relative lack of talent and experience in the field, the pay is competitive and there are valuable opportunities for individuals to move from working as employees to launching their own companies within a year, he added.
“You would probably be able to get a premium because it is the cannabis industry,” Bulbulyan said. “If you were making $50,000 a year, you’d probably be making $60,000 or $70,000 in the cannabis industry.”
Bulbulyan added that schools may be better off adding specialized cannabis courses to their existing major programs.
“It’s really about not necessarily creating new four-year degrees in cannabis, because what are you really specializing in? Not much, it’s a plant,” Bulbulyan said. “It represents an ingredient, it represents a commodity, it represents an industry.”
By Viviana Hinojos
When Deric Ng tells people he is pursuing a degree in cannabis, he often hears questions like “Is there really a degree in that?” and “What will you do with a marijuana degree?”
Ng grew up in San Francisco in the mid-’90s, surrounded by cannabis culture, and said that he has been using it recreationally for the past 20 years.
City College of San Francisco launched the first cannabis studies associate of arts degree in the spring of 2021 and Ng was immediately drawn to the program.
“This is the first degree of its kind,” he said. “I was curious. I was in the right place at the right time.”
Ng’s pursuit of his AA in cannabis studies has given him a different perspective on marijuana than he had as a consumer.
Ng said that he also attends addiction and recovery programs and he hopes to build a career related to those fields.
Having struggled with drug addiction between the ages of 30 to 38, Ng credits cannabis as a helpful tool for maintaining sobriety.
“When I look at cannabis it definitely helps me more than it could ever hurt me,” he said.
“When I first started I had questioned myself, how am I going to make this work,” Ng said. “But throughout time, I’m starting to put it together, and starting to see that there is a space for cannabis in addiction recovery.”
He added: “Being among the first graduates from this program, we are kind of like trailblazing,” he said. “Because it’s so new, I have no idea where it can take me.”
By Ramon Castaños
Green Flower is a Los Angeles-area company that specializes in cannabis work training programs. The company has teamed up with 17 colleges across the country to help students plan out possible careers in the cannabis field.
Daniel Kalef, 55, is the Vice President of High Education at Green Flower and says that cannabis as an industry and academic discipline gained steam sometime after California lawmakers legalized marijuana for medicinal use.
Kalef said that when states across the U.S. legalize cannabis, they open their markets to potential new medicines and tax revenues. “If you go to your average dispensary, half of the people there are over the age of 50,” Kalef said. “And they are really not there to get high, but more so to get help with sleep or chronic pain.”
Experts say that college students are increasingly becoming interested in career opportunities in the California cannabis industry. And likewise, cannabis companies are interested in hiring students with skills that would benefit their bottom line, from cultivating marijuana to researching uses and beyond.
“They need people in marketing, human resources, accounting, finances, banking, real estate,” Kalef said. “All of the other things any corporations will need, cannabis businesses will need, as well.”
Kalef said that there are approximately 430,000 employees in the legal cannabis industry nationwide and that figure is expected to be around a half-million by the end of 2022.
For students going into the industry, salaries will vary depending on the job position and value to the company, Kalef said. “The cannabis industry is paying on average 10 to 20% higher than other similar jobs from other industries.”
“There is anecdotal evidence that many of those people move to the cannabis industry because it pays better and the opportunity to grow from entry-level to management is much more significant,” Kalef said.
Green Flower, based in Ventura, offers four programs to help train students in business, agriculture, medicine and health care, as well as legal and policy programs. These programs are six months long and offered online.
Kalef said that Green Flower wants to partner with more colleges, but they are a bit hesitant because many colleges look down upon the idea of offering cannabis degrees or certificates.
“These programs are about educating people about jobs that are out there today and growing every day,” Kalef said. “Most universities make it part of their mission to help people grow and succeed in their careers.” He even tells universities that they don’t have to be advocates or support cannabis, but should instead focus on the educational and career opportunities.
“The good news is that the budget side doesn’t cost the colleges anything, and we actually take on all upfront costs,” Kalef said, which may include marketing, advertising and curriculum.
“When people realize that major universities are offering cannabis programs, that helps the industry as a whole,” Kalef said. “It adds more legality and hopefully pushes us further away from the negative stigma.”
By Ramon Castanos
Alexa Blair, a 30-year-old second semester student at City College of San Francisco, says that she has gone all-in and enrolled in cannabis-related courses.
Blair said that she heard about the cannabis program at the community college through a cannabis networking event at which she worked as a bartender. “I was immediately intrigued, and I want to be part of it,” Blair said.
Today, Blair says that friends often tease her and ask when she will begin growing weed to smoke for fun. She says that she gets annoyed by those comments.
Blair said that she hopes to use a degree in cannabis to help set state policy regarding legal use of marijuana, or possibly go into public education surrounding the subject. In both cases, she hopes to work to erase bad connotations across the country related to marijuana.
Blair is taking an anthropology course that is related to her cannabis major. “When you get into the culture, the biology, there are so many aspects pertaining to cannabis, more than just the stoner subculture,” she said.
Blair said that she personally has used cannabis for medical reasons. Blair underwent chemotherapy treatments when she was in her early 20s. “Cannabis is an appetite stimulant,” she said, “and solves the side effects of chemotherapy for me.”
Blair said that she still uses cannabis to help with anxiety and migraines, and as a sleeping agent. “I also use it recreationally,” she said. “But I keep track of how much I use and what strains are good for me and for which purpose.”
Blair also pays heed to harmful health issues that could be related to marijuana use.
“Smoking marijuana does impact your lungs like cigarettes too,” Blair said. “Also, smoking too much can lead to medical conditions, such as cannabis hyperemesis, which basically means your body has become accustomed to smoking too much and it leads to severe digestive and stomach cramps.”
Blair admits that some family members have negative reactions when she mentions her academic interest in cannabis. Blair’s family is from South Dakota, where cannabis isn’t legal.
“There is a lot of stigma from my family more than from friends,” Blair said.
“When I told my family and friends that I smoke cannabis or use cannabis for medical purposes, that didn’t go well,” Blair said. “I feel very fortunate being in California and San Francisco where cannabis isn’t as taboo.”
By Mary McFadden
Whitney Beatty opened the first Black-owned medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, and as CEO of Josephine and Billie’s she is among the first women of color to have opened a dispensary in the United States. She also manufactures and sells her own line of high-end herb and tobacco accoutrements under the label The Apothecarry Case.
Beatty was a guest speaker and panelist at a recent event called “Grass on Grass,” hosted by a student-run organization called Cannabis at USC and held near the campus.
Beatty said that she attended the student event to share her optimism about potential career paths in cannabis based on her experience, and to spread the word that there are jobs available whether a student consumes marijuana or not.
“I think that the outlook is bright. This industry is a high growth space,” Beatty said. “There are jobs and there will continue to be jobs. I think we are looking at federal legalization coming online within the next five years.”
She chose the company name to be “Josephine and Billie’s” to pay homage to both Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday, inspirational women of color who were once heavily scrutinized for smoking cannabis in the 1920s, even though it was illegal at the time.
Beatty is breaking the glass ceiling in the cannabis industry and trailblazing a path by using her platform to encourage people of color, particularly women, to create their own opportunities and wealth.
Forbes magazine projects the cannabis market will reach $43 billion dollars by the year 2025. Currently, 18 states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, as well as the District of Columbia.
As the growth of the industry continues to expand in California and the country, the need for researchers, lawyers, growers, educators, marketers, supply chain managers, packagers, retailers and more will develop as well.
“The only error that people make is when they think too narrowly of this view,” Beatty said she tells students and parents alike. “We have opportunities for almost every major in the cannabis industry.”
She added: “Do your homework and research before they come into the space. You don’t have to be a consumer to be in the cannabis industry. Know the back story, the war on drugs, the plant, and the legacy that you’re stepping into.”
By Nova Blanco-Rico
After serving seven years in the military, Dean Gant, 37, returned to California in 2012, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He dealt with it as best he could until one day his mother recommended cannabis.
Today, Gant is in his third year at City College of San Francisco, where he is majoring in cannabis studies.
“I didn’t use cannabis growing up. And when I joined the military, it was reinforced to not use cannabis, so I never did,” Gant said. “But going through a lot of the experiences I had in the military, I did have to start taking medications, antidepressants and benzodiazepines. The problem with that is that it’s effective to keep you from experiencing things. But that’s also the drawback. You can’t experience anything. I didn’t like that.”
Gant also experienced a divorce, which worsened his anxiety and depression.
“I went to my mom’s for a couple of weeks after that because I was not doing well mentally and while I was with her, she confessed to me that she uses cannabis medicinally,” Gant said. “She said ‘I use it for pain. But I also use it for my symptoms, like depression, and anxiety. Why don’t you try this for your depression and your anxiety?’”
Gant said that he took his mom’s advice and noticed a difference right away, minus the side effects of prescription drugs.
Gant now considers his pursuit of a degree in cannabis studies as a “beam of light.”
“In the courses, you’re looking at the intersection of humans and cannabis and at all these levels like society, politics, and chemically,” Gant said. “What is it doing neurologically? This degree actually addresses all these different levels.”
Gant wants to be a cannabis consultant to others with similar conditions.
“Cannabis consultants are the ones who give you the recommendations of what could help you,” Gant said. “I would take the opportunity with this degree to help educate people further because no two people are the same and everyone reacts differently. So, helping guide people that way is important.”
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