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Roanoke College Announces New Cannabis Studies Program

From cannabis false starts and deals that tie a sporting entertainment zone’s future to cannabis reform progress, a lot is going on in Virginia when it comes to the marijuana market. Now, students in the state may have the opportunity to learn and explore the complex biological and social policies surrounding this polarizing plant.

Roanoke College recently announced plans to create a transdisciplinary Cannabis Studies Program for students. The decision means that Roanoke College would be the first institution of higher learning in Virginia to offer a four-year degree in the rapidly expanding cannabis industry. It would also be one of only a handful of East Coast schools allowing college students to earn a degree in a cannabis-related field.

The Move to Bring Cannabis Studies to Roanoke College

The Roanoke College faculty voted to approve the creation of the new Cannabis Studies Program. The program will allow students to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in either the science of cannabis or social justice and policy issues surrounding cannabis regulation. College officials hope the program can help establish the institution and its graduates as national leaders in the developing scientific and public policy discussion surrounding cannabis.

Roanoke College seeks to join a small minority of higher learning institutions on the East Coast that offer cannabis-related degrees. The cannabis industry in the United States continues to grow and bloom thanks to more and more states getting on the adult-use cannabis bandwagon. Roanoke College is looking to help students capitalize on industry growth and give the cannabis market a boost by ensuring students interested in a cannabis career have the education and tools it takes to succeed in the industry. This industry is expected to reach at least $40 billion this year.

The educational institution hopes to begin offering two new majors and a minor in Cannabis Studies in the fall of 2024.

What Will Courses Look Like at the School?

What can students expect from the two new disciplines at Roanoke College? It depends on the direction you want your education to take. The Cannabis Studies Program will allow students to capitalize on the growth of the marijuana industry in the U.S. The core classes for both programs involve courses focusing on botany, the history of cannabis, and policy issues surrounding the industry. From there, students can focus their studies on social justice or science. Examples of courses that Roanoke College plans to offer include:

  • Cannabis and Society
  • Cannabis and Regulations
  • Cannabis and Pop Culture
  • Cannabis and Race
  • Cannabis and Disabilities
  • Entomology of Cannabis

Courses will allow students to focus their Senior Research project on cannabis. Students in either discipline will also get matched with internships and experiences that can help them further develop their skills and set them up for success in the cannabis industry post-graduation. The school indicates that current and prospective students can declare a cannabis major.

Roanoke College also suggests that industry leaders will help shape the new program and ensure that students get the most up-to-date and current scientific and policy information to prepare them for a career in the cannabis industry. However, for the safety of students and faculty and in compliance with current federal law, Roanoke College will only grow hemp varieties of cannabis plants for study.

Moving in a Positive Direction

Biology Professor Dorothy Belle says students are curious about the cannabis industry. She is excited about being a part of the first institution in Virginia to approach cannabis from a scholarly perspective. The Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, Kathy Wolf, says she commends the faculty for developing the new program and feels that it fills a significant education gap, a gap many in the cannabis industry have been clamoring to fill.

The Pew Research Center indicates that 88 percent of American adults believe cannabis should be legalized for medical use in adults. A significant portion of adults also believe recreational marijuana should be legalized, as well. There has been a significant rise in public support for marijuana legalization. In many states that have legalized adult-use cannabis recently, like Maryland, they’ve experienced rapid growth in the industry and a tremendous surge in sales revenue.

However, as more states expand and explore legalization and the industry grows, there is a continued need for educated and qualified individuals to take the reins. Roanoke College hopes to position its students who graduate with cannabis-related degrees for success in the industry.

Currently, fewer than 25 institutions of higher learning in the United States offer degrees in cannabis-related fields. Some reports indicate the cannabis industry was producing as many as 280 new jobs per day in 2022. However, there may need to be more qualified individuals to fill the highly skills positions in areas such as cultivation, medical studies, healthcare, public education, policymaking, and regulation.

Many of the policymaking leaders tapped to head cannabis regulation boards and commissions come from law enforcement backgrounds. Ohio recently appointed James Canepa to lead the newly formed Commerce Division of Cannabis Control. He served as the Division of Liquor Control Superintendent and Chief Counsel for the Ohio Department of Public Safety. Some cannabis advocates claim those who choose to head state bodies overseeing policymaking and regulation should have more experience and knowledge within the cannabis industry, both scientifically and politically, especially when those with a background in law enforcement and prosecution may be biased considering America’s current drug policy and its “war on drugs,” painting all those with drug convictions on their record with the same brush.

Institutions of higher learning like Roanoke College, that offer programs specially designed to address regulation, policy, and the history of cannabis in society, may be better suited to educating potential future leaders, ensuring that states entering the legal market can set themselves up for success by providing a pool of skilled and informed cannabis degree-holders.

Either way, educators and students seem excited to see what the fall semester holds. You can follow this story and others like it on Cannabutter Digest. Join us for all the latest newsrecipes, and product reviews.



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