Marijuana may give you the giggles, but a “marijuana degree” is actually not a laughing matter. In fact, legal marijuana is serious business. And as a serious business, marijuana has increasingly become a focus for serious professors, courses, and both traditional and online college. Depending on where you live, or plan to live, getting an education in marijuana could help you blaze a path to a practical career in a real and growing field (all puns intended).
Individual states are acknowledging the medicinal properties of marijuana, with prohibition laws becoming more relaxed all the time. In some regions where marijuana has been fully decriminalized or legalized, it has become a major cash crop. Some agricultural communities rely entirely on the legal cultivation and sale of marijuana for survival.
As a rapidly expanding business, marijuana represents a tremendous career opportunity. And one need not partake of the product to profit. Changing laws and changing attitudes make the cannabis sector an emergent frontier for legitimate professionals of all kinds. Below, we’ll hit you with eight degree paths that channel into a cannabis career.
But first, a little more on why this is a good idea.
I Wanna Take You Higher … in the Polls
Public views on marijuana have changed dramatically in just the last two decades. How much? Former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, just this April, joined the advisory board for Acreage Holdings, a company that grows, packages, and sells cannabis products in 11 U.S. states.
Let that sink in for a second: arch-conservative and self-proclaimed legalization opponent becomes industry spokesman for legal weed. Like most astute politicians, he’s just going where the polls are. Bloomberg reports on a Gallup survey that says 64% of Americans — a majority of Republicans and Democrats alike — support legalization. This is weed’s highest popularity rating since polling on the subject began. In 1969 — the year that 500,000 hippies and 32 bands spent a weekend smoking out Yasgur’s Farm near Woodstock, New York — only 12% of those surveyed supported legalization.
But as John Boehner explains, “Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically. I find myself in that same position.”
Of course, it’s not just the polls. Boehner is also following the money. And there’s wisdom in that.
Legalize It or Criticize It
Marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I narcotic at the national level — the harshest rating given by the federal government. And the Justice Department under the Trump Administration has rescinded some of the legal gains made by marijuana during the Obama era. But considerable evidence suggests this position is out of step with prevailing public views, scientific research, and perhaps most importantly, economic opportunity.
In the shadow of an opioid crisis and a heroin epidemic — two co-conspirators in a surge of drug-related deaths — lawmakers and researchers are taking a much more measured approach to marijuana. Marijuana presents opportunities for pain-management, appetite stimulation, mood elevation, sleep therapy, and a host of other applications without carrying the risks of addiction, abuse, or overdose that legally prescribed opioids present.
All of this feeds into the case for decriminalization or legalization. At the time of writing, recreational marijuana is fully legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. It’s also legal for medicinal purposes in an additional 25 states.
In spite of the federal stance on the subject, a number of states have seen a direct and substantial benefit from the economic stimulation and cannabis taxation. According to Business Insider, in 2016 alone, the so-called “Emerald Triangle” region of Northern California did $8.5 billion in marijuana business. For comparison, this very same agricultural region has a milk and cream market worth roughly $6.1 billion.
What the expansion of marijuana might do to benefit medical recipients and offset the opioid crisis is yet to be seen, but that could be where you come in.
Indeed, the future of legal marijuana in the U.S. is so bright, you’ve gotta wear shades. According to the investment bank Cowen & Co., the legal weed market will be worth something in the range of $75 billion by 2030.
That’s a lot of seeds and stems. And it probably won’t hurt Pink Floyd’s album sales either.
But where you’re concerned, it’s also an enormous opportunity to get in on the ground floor. There are high times ahead.
So, what should you major be for a career in cannabis?
The Best Marijuana Degrees
Let’s start with the obvious. You can actually major in cannabis at highly-regarded, fully accredited schools around the U.S. As a major cash crop that comes in almost infinite strains and is the subject of numerous medical trials, cannabis represents an expansive area of study all on its own. Northern Michigan University offers a medicinal plant chemistry course with a focus on the health applications of marijuana. UC–Davis offers a course called the Physiology of Cannabis. University of Washington has a class called Medicinal Cannabis and Chronic Pain. The Ohio State University Law School offers a Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform Seminar. And there are trade-specific schools like Oaksterdam University, Cannabis College, and Humboldt Cannabis College, all clustered in green-friendly California. But this is not a puff and pass program. You will work hard for your degree in challenging classes such as organic chemistry, biostatistics, genetics, and gas and liquid chromatography.
When you’re done, though, CNBC reports that you could score a job in the cannabis business making $70,000 a year right out of school. With that said, if you’d rather keep your options open while still creating an inroad to the marijuana sector, other ways to go include …
Biology is the study of living organisms and the ecology around them. This includes the study of plant life and the opportunity for a focus in botany, horticulture, genetics, environmental quality, and anything else that might help you synthesize the next great hybrid strain of marijuana. You’ll also learn about the human body, anatomy, physiology, and pathology, which can provide insight into the medicinal applications of marijuana as well as the science underlying its qualities as an intoxicant.
For obvious reasons, marijuana hasn’t historically been the most widely advertised product. You had to know somebody. But legalization and legitimization are rapidly changing the marketplace and making it more competitive. In California and Colorado, where legal marijuana is already economically entrenched, growing operations and dispensaries must compete with one another. If you’re looking to leap into this untapped subsection of the marketing business, the future promises a growing number of potential clients. Learn how to create positive brand association, drive marketing campaigns, and identify key consumer targets. These are all things that marijuana farms, dispensaries, and paraphernalia retailers must do as their marketplace saturates.
4. Health Care
The biggest argument in favor of decriminalization is the array of potential medical benefits of marijuana therapy. According to WebMD, active chemicals in marijuana called cannabinoids are similar to chemicals occurring naturally in the body. These natural chemicals are connected to appetite, memory, movement, and pain. This is likely why marijuana therapy helps improve appetite and reduce nausea or vomiting in chemotherapy patients, suppresses the muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and helps individuals manage many day-to-day health challenges, including chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, and a wide range of digestive issues. All of this amounts to a wide and expanding field of marijuana-based medical research, therapy, and treatment. Your degree in health care could provide a pathway to advancing opportunities for wellness through medical marijuana, whether as a nurse, a practicing physician, the administrator of a healthcare facility, or as a researcher.
5. Business Administration
Naturally, if the business of marijuana is growing, so too are the challenges, logistics, opportunities, and threats. Running a marijuana distribution business today requires a lot more than a scale, some baggies, and a basement with lots of tapestries. There are taxes, insurance issues, zoning requirements, accounts receivable, competitors, local, state, and federal regulations, etc., etc., etc. If you want in on the legal marijuana trade, you need a head for business. A degree in business administration can help you balance all of these dimensions by providing instruction in organizational management, entrepreneurship, financial accounting, business law, and a host of other areas critical to creating and running a viable weed company.
Agriculture seems like one obvious path, but be prepared for a challenging course of study. The cultivation of marijuana is a highly specialized area of agriculture, one that requires a robust knowledge of soil quality, lighting, sexing, and harvesting. The field is complicated by the impact of adverse weather patterns, strain variation, and a wide spectrum of growing techniques, be they indoor, outdoor, hydroponic, or otherwise. This course of study will provide you with the skills and knowledge to manage every dimension of a growing operation, from planting and irrigation to practices in sustainable farming and leading edge growing technology.
7. Criminal Justice/Law
Even as marijuana laws becoming increasingly relaxed throughout the U.S., enforcement and punishment remain wildly inconsistent from state to state. Something that is completely legal in the state of California can land you in a South Carolina jail cell. In addition, considerable evidence shows prosecution of nonviolent marijuana offenders disproportionately targets people of color. According to The Guardian, while there are no statistical differences in the rate of marijuana usage across races, during 2001–10, African Americans were four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession. Significant legal challenges and questions still surround the issue of marijuana. And with a $75 billion business at stake, you can be sure that legal researchers, lawyers, and law enforcement personnel will be needed to help the marijuana business find stable footing. Study criminal justice or law and find ways to contribute to a consistent and fair policy on marijuana.
8. Political Science
A degree in political science helps you do more than just defend or interpret the law. Here, you can actually work to change it. Study subjects that include civic action, electoral politics, constitutional law, and public administration. This should form a strong basis for participation in the lawmaking process, whether as an activist, a nonprofit organizer, a lobbyist, a public policy researcher, or even as a holder of public office. Bringing consistency to policy orientation on marijuana will be an increasingly visible public issue as the economic prospects become self-evident. A degree in political science can provide you with the qualifications to help guide us toward sensible policy.
The chemistry underlying the properties and benefits of marijuana is complex, some of which we are only beginning to understand today. For instance, growing evidence reveals cannabinoids might interact positively with natural cannabinoid receptors in the human body to slow tumor growth and kill cancer cells. This amazing possibility is just one of many chemistry-specific considerations that drive scientific interest in cannabis. Hypotheses and questions abound regarding the impacts — both positive and negative — of chemical elements in marijuana, such as THC and CBD; the empirical basis behind the proclaimed dangers or benefits of usage; and the soil, water, and environmental conditions that best facilitate cultivation. Study the chemistry of the human body, the environment, and marijuana itself, and work toward a career as a technician, scientist, or researcher for one of the many think tanks, healthcare facilities, universities, or corporations now invested in cannabis.
Did we miss anything? Any other majors that you’d recommend for the budding entrepreneur?