Majoring in marijuana at LSSU

Published: Nov. 5, 2019 at 5:34 PM EST
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One university in Michigan is banking on the future of marijuana.

Lake Superior State University (LSSU) is the first school in the country to roll out new degrees focusing on "cannabis chemistry."

"I remember people asking me, 'Oh you're just getting a degree in pot!' But really that's not what it is. It's the analytical chemistry techniques of it," Allie Anderson, a cannabis chemistry student, said.

LSSU is the smallest public university in Michigan and sits at the top of the state on the Canadian border. The school, once known for its fisheries and wildlife programs, is now making a name for itself in the burgeoning marijuana industry as the first school in the nation to offer a cannabis chemistry program to its undergraduate students.

"First of all, the market is expanding rapidly. They're estimating about 20,000 jobs in the state of Michigan alone," Dr. Steven Johnson, a professor of cannabis chemistry at LSSU, said.

"An industry that needs trained scientists that we are well-equipped to do," a student majoring in cannabis chemistry said.

There are thousands of jobs here in Michigan and more across the country. A new report suggests that by the end of 2019, the number of full-time cannabis employees could top 200,000 nationwide.

The rapid growth is what led LSSU to create a cannabis chemistry and cannabis business program for its students.

"It's just awesome to be able to go into some sort of innovative field, rather than getting stuck into a field that's already saturated or what have you," Aleister Pether, a cannabis business program student, said.

The university designed its program to be hands-on so students can learn cannabis chemistry by actually performing cannabis chemistry.

"We're not using surrogate material, we're going through the proper channels in terms of state licensing and the DEA to make sure they can legally have products here that students are able to train with," Dr. Johnson said.

"The hands-on use of instruments like these that you're going to use is far and above what you get at most universities," Justin Blalock, a cannabis chemistry student, said.

"Our program is designed to walk the students through testing and the chemistry behind what's going on in the cannabis plant, so in consumer products, consumer safety, law enforcement and how all those things combine and interact from a chemistry perspective," Benjamin Southwell, assistant professor for cannabis chemistry, said.

Students are learning skills they will need for a future in the business-- with legal sales revenue of cannabis in current legal state expected to reach nearly $30 billion by 2025.

Data also suggest jobs will increase as well. Job growth in the cannabis industry could reach up to 475,000 jobs by 2023.

This fall is the first semester the university offered its cannabis chemistry program. Forty-one students are currently enrolled while 11 are majoring in cannabis business.

LSSU expects those numbers to grow dramatically based on higher tour volumes and information requests this year.

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