Following New York legalizing adult-use cannabis in March, one university is already working to meet the growing demand for qualified and educated professionals in the emerging industry.
University College at Syracuse University, the academic college of continuing education and professional studies, has partnered with Green Flower, a cannabis education association, to offer four programs where individuals can receive non-credit certificates in Cannabis Education.
The four programs are: Healthcare and Medicine, Cannabis Law and Policy, The Business of Cannabis, and Cannabis Agriculture and Horticulture. Each course is six months and includes three eight-week online classes.
Individuals do not have to be a student at Syracuse to enroll in the course. University College Dean Michael Frasciello said the university expects the primary student population to be individuals already in the industry looking to upskill and further educate themselves or people looking to enter the industry. However, he suspects that more university students will show interest in the programs over time as the cannabis industry continues to expand.
Frasciello gives a general overview of each program:
The Cannabis Law and Policy program will cover business practices, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation, future opportunities in related career fields, intellectual property, social equity, labor law, environmental law and consumer law, including advertising, labeling and packaging, he said.
“What we expect that we’ll see interest in this program from lawyers who are practicing but want to build expertise in this area within their practice,” he said. “Certainly, paralegals, or others in specific areas of the industry like advertising, labeling and packaging, that need to have a [better] grounding in some of the legal and policy aspects of it.”
The Business of Cannabis program will cover a wide range of topics, from business to the fundamentals of cultivation. Some cultivation topics include processing, extraction, manufacturing, lab setup and protocols and distribution. While the business side covers retail, delivery, licensing, business ethics, marketing, human resources, sales, accounting, how to scale business operations, real estate, innovation, investment and more, he said.
“The interesting thing I think about this program is that students create a business portfolio,” he said. “Basically, the portfolio is [students] set up [their] own company and create a very high-level business plan. They will look at risk analysis, operations, project management and lots of case studies.”
The Health and Medicine program is specific to understanding medical cannabis properties, he said. The course will cover human physiology, health care ethics and law, the use of cannabis in health care practices for practitioners and more.
“Similar to where the business program has the portfolio, in this program, students [will be] partnered with integrated medical centers in the areas where they’re located or facilities to learn more about dosing, titration, administration—sort of drug interactions,” he said. “So, it [covers] some interactions that [they may] need to be aware of from a pharmacological perspective.”
The Agriculture and Horticulture program is the most “straightforward” of the four programs, he said.
Students run through how to engage in production effectively and sustainably, which includes management cultivation as well as statutory and administrative laws.
Similar to the other programs, Agriculture and Horticulture is also project-based, and students will be required to do case studies specific to their state on local jurisdiction for cultivation, he said.
“There is a chemistry or scientific component to the program [as well],” he said. “Students will cover plant chemistry, disease and threats, techniques and processes for harvesting and drying, trimming and processing, storage, and there’s a module on industrial hemp again. So, we are trying to attend to all of the opportunities within the industry.”
Frasciello added, “Our decision to make this a non-credit as opposed to a credit program is that the non-credit program allows us to customize better [the program] to meet workforce demand. When you attach a credit to something, there’s a lot of governance on the backend that has to come into play, and we felt that with the non-credit certificate, we could be more agile and responsive to the demand and interest as it increases.”
Essentially, the non-credit aspect gives the university the freedom to make changes to the curriculum as the industry evolves.
“There were some folks on my team that had the foresight to identify that the cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country,” he said. “Then we determined that we probably should be moving into space with a continuing education program, which is where Green Flower came in.”
Green Flower faculty members with years of experience in different aspects of the cannabis industry designed and developed the curriculum. The university worked with them to ensure that the curriculum aligned with the “tenets of rigor and excellence” that the university is known for in the online space, Frasciello said.
Professional instructors from Green Flower who are currently in the industry will be teaching the curriculum, which is essential to the university, as these individuals can teach from experience.
While the university was working with Green Flower last fall to get the curriculum approved, the state began to send strong signals that legalization would likely happen in the spring, Frasciello said. “It just aligned really nicely that we were able to get everything approved within the university through our governance process, and then the state announced [legalization]," he said.
Enrollment is currently open and all courses begin on June 28. Ever since the university released its first press release about it in April, the response has been great, he said. About half a dozen individuals have enrolled in the program and roughly 10 to 14 have inquired about it.
Designing a program like this to educate individuals on the cannabis industry and prepare them for jobs in the field is essential, Frasciello said, especially as New York and neighboring states move to legalize cannabis.
“Our mission here is to prepare individuals for success in whatever industry that they’re currently in or the industry or career that they want to move into—that’s our whole purpose here,” he said. “So, it was important for us to move into this opportunity because we want to be able to ensure that there are individuals in the industry who are informed, smart, capable, responsible and good practitioners.”