Emerging Programs Blog Series: Cannabis

March 12, 2020

I started this series on Emerging Programs with the caution that one of the programs I’m sharing may not be legal in your state. Today, at long last, you’ll find out which one: Cannabis. The legalization of Cannabis in many states has created new opportunities, and higher education is responding.


Does Cannabis fit your mission?

When you’re thinking about starting programs, Cannabis is definitely one that you have to think about in terms of mission fit. For many, the moral issues will dictate their choice about the program. Legal issues may deter many others. As shown below, many states have legalized Cannabis, but it remains illegal under federal law. On the other hand, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment prohibits federal prosecution of individuals complying with state medical cannabis laws.

For some institutions, the opportunity to increase enrollment and revenue and improve the financial viability of the institution may make a Cannabis program irresistible. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • 67% of Americans support legalizing cannabis, up from 32% in 2010, and 18% in 1990.
  • Marijuana is legal for recreational use in 11 states and Washington, DC.
  • 33 states have legalized marijuana for medical use.
  • An additional 14 states have legalized limited THC content for products such as CBD oil.
  • Marijuana was legalized throughout Canada in 2018.
  • The market for legal marijuana is predicted to be $47 billion by 2027.

The Cannabis industry: Big business

As mentioned, the North American market is predicted to be $47 billion by 2027 and possibly $80 billion by 2030. CBD (cannabidiol), which is used in oils, oral sprays, creams, pills, and edibles, is one of the fastest-growing segments; sales are predicted to reach anywhere from $1.3 to $22 billion by 2022. Marijuana companies raised $13.8 billion in funding in 2018, 4X the amount raised in 2017. The U.S. marijuana industry is forecast to generate $17.5 billion in tax revenue by 2030.

Banking remains a key legal obstacle, but blockchain-based transactions and record-keeping, such as those offered by Mtrac, may provide a compliant solution. Prominent companies include software provider Green Bits, robotics firm Bloom Automation, multistate operators Cresco Labs and Green Thumb Industries, delivery companies Eaze and Dutchie, and CannaCloud, the “Keurig” for cannabis.

Employment in the Cannabis industry

New Frontier Data estimates U.S. employment in the cannabis industry at 250,000 (jobs directly involved in handling marijuana plants). Employment could reach 414,000 workers by 2021. This excludes additional jobs that don’t involve direct work with the plants but are harder to quantify.

Glassdoor cites a median cannabis industry salary of $58,511, compared to $52,863 for U.S. workers as a whole – a difference of more than 10%. The market is still localized due to regulatory and legal considerations. The top three metro areas for cannabis job openings are San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver. Small-to-medium sized businesses (<500 employees) accounted for 84% of job openings.

Employment is largely divided into three segments: service and retail, professional and technical, and labor and physical. Some jobs are entry-level positions common to many industries, such as delivery people, pickers, and cashiers; pay typically ranges from $20,000-$40,000. Other jobs require advanced degrees or specialized skills and can pay upwards of $100,000.

What does Cannabis mean for higher education?

Cannabis-related courses and programs have been launched in fields such as business, medicine, public policy, chemistry, and lab sciences. UC-Berkeley opened a Cannabis Research Center in January 2019 to study the impact of cannabis production on the environment and society. The University of Vermont’s Medical Cannabis Center for Research and Education focuses on research and clinical applications of cannabis-based medicine for therapeutic use. Programs and training courses are offered by non-accredited institutions such as Oaksterdam University, Cannabis Training University, and Clover Leaf University.

While there are Cannabis programs out there, uncertainties remain. Legal concerns led the University of Maryland to cancel plans for a training program for pharmacists and technicians working in medical marijuana dispensaries. The University has since launched the program online. More than 10 new programs were announced in 2018 and 2019, including some at public institutions. Check out our emerging programs webinar for the full list of institutions and programs they’re offering.

Want a deeper dive into Emerging Cannabis Programs?

Have an hour? Watch our recent webinar on 5 Emerging Programs You Should Know About in 2020. Have about 15 minutes? Watch the Cannabis portion of the webinar here. Want to discuss what emerging programs might be a fit for your institution? Let us know. We would be glad to help.

Have you seen my other Emerging Programs Blog Series posts? Find out what I have to say about Emerging Quantum Computing, Human Microbiome, and Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles Programs. Before you jump into the Emerging Programs pool, make sure you ask yourself these seven questions.

Gray Associates

Gray Associates, Inc. provides the best available data, software, and facilitated processes to help higher education institutions make high-stakes decisions regarding academic programs, pricing, and locations.

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