Duncan Chappell realized two years ago that he wanted to grow and harvest cannabis.
At the time, medical marijuana could not be legally produced in the state, so he enrolled in Northwest Missouri State University for a degree in horticulture.
That same year, the university partnered with e-learning company Green Flower to offer a certificate in cannabis farming and horticulture.
“Oh, that’s perfect. I want to do that,” was Chappell’s first thought when he received an email saying he could get the certificate while he was studying.
Months after completing the program, he began working at a cultivation facility, where he grew and processed the plants.
More colleges and universities in the United States are offering commercial cannabis production programs after it became legal in more than half of the United States for medical use and 19 states for recreational use.
In addition to the Agriculture and Horticulture major, Northwest Missouri State University’s program offers three other specializations: Cannabis Health Care and Medicine, Cannabis Law, and Cannabis Politics and Business.
Green Flower, a California-based cannabis education training platform, has partnered with 13 other universities across the country to offer a six-month online program for cannabis professionals.
“We developed this program in response to many, many people in places where the industry is growing and wanting to hire the people who know about the industry,” said Daniel Kalef, vice president of higher education at Green Flower.
Certificates are not just for qualified individuals entering the industry, but also for doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
“When you’re in a legal state, you have to deal with so many types of things if you work in healthcare, in government or in the judiciary,” Kalef said.
Since marijuana is still illegal under federal law, this professional training can keep you out of trouble, he said.
“In managing your income, for example, you can’t put your money in a government-insured bank,” Kalef said. “Every normal aspect of every industry is actually a challenge when it comes to cannabis.”
Cannabis is a relatively new industry in Missouri, opening its first medical marijuana dispensary in 2020 after making it legal in a 2018 ballot initiative to amend the state constitution.
Under the law, qualified patients with doctor approval can receive identification cards that allow them or their registered caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase up to 4 ounces of cannabis from dispensaries monthly.
Doctors in Missouri can recommend medicinal cannabis to any patient they deem appropriate. A cannabis health and medicinal certificate could be beneficial for healthcare professionals who need to better recognize when cannabis use should be recommended, Kalef said.
Since medical legalization, the number of medical licenses and ID cards approved in Missouri has increased dramatically. Missouri now has more than 100,000 licensed, legal medical marijuana users in the state, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
As patient demand continues to grow, so does the cannabis industry.
“This is a new modern industry, a fast-growing industry for the state of Missouri,” said Jay Johnson, associate provost for academic operations and development at Northwest Missouri State University.
Dispensaries and other cannabis businesses that have operated in Missouri for less than a year have generated more than $200 million in sales, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
“It’s not the old pictures that we would have of cannabis,” Johnson said. “Now people take it seriously.”
As cannabis becomes more accepted, Northwest Missouri State University wants to lead the way.
“It’s not something that universities normally do. We’ve been a little reluctant as an industry in higher education,” Johnson said.
At least one other Missouri university is adapting to the new market; Saint Louis University also offers medical cannabis certifications, with training in growing, growing, and manufacturing cannabis.
Other universities such as Lincoln University, Southeast Missouri State University, and the MU Extension program offer courses in the production and use of industrial hemp that contains 0.3% or less THC, the component that is commonly used medicinally or socially.
Interested applicants for Northwest Missouri State University’s cannabis program must be at least 18 years of age to enroll and do not need to have a high school diploma or other credentials. Registrations for the year from January are possible on the online pages of the university.
“Cannabis is here. We need to know about this, and we need to really make sure we’re bringing qualified people into the industry,” Johnson said.