• US schools are increasingly seeking to prepare students for cannabis jobs.
  • These schools are offering cannabis courses on subjects as varied as business and botany.
  • Because marijuana is still illegal in many US states, and because of the stigma around cannabis, teaching the classes can be challenging.
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With the cannabis industry booming, US colleges and universities are increasingly offering programs meant to prepare students for careers in the business.

A report from the cannabis website Leafly and the consultancy Whitney Economics found marijuana to be the fastest-growing industry in the US. And now, many schools are capitalizing on the opportunity.

The Daniels College of Business, at the University of Denver, started offering a course on the business of marijuana in 2017. The class, which is open to undergraduate and graduate students, features guest speakers who work in different facets of the cannabis industry, like a recruiting platform and a cannabis and hemp investment firm. Students then profile various cannabis companies before ultimately pitching their own business.

According to Paul Seaborn, an assistant professor in the department of management who designed the course, several Denver alumni have gone on to work in the industry, where they apply components of their business pitch.

The semester culminates in a field trip to Sweet Grass Kitchen, a local edibles manufacturer. There, students get a chance to hear from management and tour their facility. “That’s always a pretty interesting eye-opener,” Seaborn told Business Insider, “because the average person just doesn’t have a chance to walk into those facilities and see what’s going on.”

Read more: A cannabis CEO who led turnarounds at FAO Schwarz and Patagonia explains why he’s looking to poach ‘nimble’ people from small companies – rather than big-name execs

At SUNY Morrisville in New York, students can sign up for Introductory Cannabis, which is part of the school’s new cannabis-industry minor. The goal, Morrisville professors say, is to equip students with the knowledge and experience necessary to pursue a range of cannabis-related careers (think botany, production and processing, and marketing).

Because the Morrisville campus boasts resources including a greenhouse and an organic farm, students learn “from start to finish how to cultivate, produce, harvest, and breed cannabis plants in a variety of different settings,” Kelly Hennigan, the chair of the horticulture department, told Business Insider. Morrisville has a license to grow hemp plants, which are all below 0.3% THC, meaning they don’t contain the chemicals that cause psychoactive effects.

There’s still a stigma around cannabis, which can make these courses challenging

paul seaborn denver field trip to sweet grass kitchen

Foto: Students at the University of Denver visiting Sweet Grass Kitchen.sourceCourtesy of Paul Seaborn

To be sure, any cannabis-related course – whether it focuses on horticulture or business – poses unique challenges.

For one thing, marijuana is still illegal in many US states, including New York. (Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year proposed legalizing recreational marijuana.)

Yet even in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, Seaborn said a significant challenge was dealing with the general stigma around cannabis. But he said, “I’ve had some amazing feedback about students who have taken the course and then shared some of the books and things that they’ve been exposed to with their parents, and their parents have read them, and it’s led to all sorts of discussions.”

Seaborn added that students who took his course on the business of marijuana became much more emotionally invested in the content than students in, say, his consulting courses. The guest speakers, he said, are “businesspeople who’ve taken some pretty big risks and maybe walked away from other opportunities to join something that is pretty new and uncharted.”

Both the number and breadth of cannabis courses are growing quickly. According to Marketwatch, Northern Michigan University students can major in medicinal plant chemistry; enrollment shot from zero to 230 in the first two years. And the University of California at Davis offers a course on the health risks of cannabis.

Seaborn said many schools were understandably wary of offering cannabis courses. “The same way that students are having to really navigate this whole new emerging world,” he said, “I think it also is forcing business schools and universities in general to also try to figure out what their role should be and what the right pace of getting involved is.”