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Cannabis and Higher Education; a Discussion with College/University Educators

Cannabis and Higher Education; a Discussion with College/University Educators

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“The nature of this industry requires professors, students, and business professionals to remain attentive to regulatory and market changes, push for innovation, and combat engrained stigma and beliefs.” – Koral Fritz, Assistant Professor

Credit: 710 Pipes

I wanted to write this piece because I am curious, and figured if I am, others may be too. Cannabis as a degree/ program is here and I want to know what that looks like. When I was in college, there was no such thing, same for so many of you.

On social media, and in various articles, I am seeing the growth of advertisements related to cannabis education programs in colleges and universities soar. Just as much and fast as the industry itself is growing, it seems as if the number of colleges and universities adding cannabis programs and degrees to their lists of degree/certificate options is growing as well. 

It may not appear this way because cannabis isn’t tracked like other things. Due to federal prohibition, college education statistics at the national level aren’t easy to come by like statistics related to the number of MBA graduates nationally. But we can see cannabis, the industry, and jobs in cannabis reaching heights many of us never imagined.

In an article titled: Are Cannabis Degrees Legit, the author points out:

“As of February 2021, the cannabis industry supports approximately 321,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. That figure amounts to an annual job growth of 32%. The cannabis industry needs labor, and these workers must have the expertise and skills to work in an emerging field. This is where colleges come in.”

I wanted to know what college looks like with cannabis as a major/minor, who cannabis degrees and programs are good for, what students need to prepare for cannabis and higher education, and what it’s like to be at the foundation of cannabis and college education as a student and/or a professor.

Credit: Green Rush Daily

Meet the Cannabis Educators/Professors 

I had the opportunity to sit down with, and pick the brains of 5 professors/educators about cannabis and higher education. It’s my pleasure to introduce you all to a handful of cannabis educators/professors/dean’s teaching at various higher education institutions; each facilitating a different course/program in cannabis:

Brett Puffenbarger, MA, CCE, “One of my favorite things in the world is crushing the stigma around being a cannabis consumer”- Brett Puffenbarger; Course(s): Business Model Innovation in Cannabis. Featured in: Bluntness, the Cannabis Review Show, and CSP Daily News. 

Rob Mejia, MCM “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” –Aristotle; Course(s): Cannabis Internship, Intro to Medical Cannabis, Cannabis Studies, and Social Justice in Cannabis. Author of: The Essential Cannabis Book and The Essential Cannabis Journal. Featured in Benzinga and RVN Television.

David Paleschuck, MBA, BFA: “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain; Course(s): Business of Cannabis. Author of: Branding Bud, the Commercialization of Cannabis. Member of Clio Cannabis jury. Featured in the Beverage Trade Network and Pro Marketing Magazine.

Jennifer Maden, MBA, MA: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” –Nelson Mandela; Assistant Dean and Director of Graduate Studies at Rohrer College of Business at Rowan University Liaison for Rowan’s Cannabis Institute for Research, Policy, & Workforce Development. Featured in CBS- Philadelphia News and NJ Business Beat. 

Michael Zaytsev: “There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” –Jiddu Krishnamurti; Academic Director of Business of Cannabis degree program. Author of: the Cannabis Business Book. Featured in Grit Daily and the Green Entrepreneur. 

Cannabis and Higher Education Q & A with College Educators/ Professors Discussing Cannabis as a Degree/ Program

Credit: Grasscity

Who is your program/course good for?

Rob Mejia: “Stockton University offers a Minor in Cannabis Studies so students can major in any field and enhance their degree with a strong baseline of cannabis knowledge. In short, our students get jobs in the cannabis and hemp fields!”

David Paleschuck: “LIM College offers both a  Bachelors in Business Administration and Master’s in Professional Studies; delivering core business knowledge to entrepreneurs who want to start and manage a successful cannabis business. Just as in many other industries, when working in cannabis, having core business skills is essential. 

Understanding and adhering to laws and regulations are paramount. The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree program in The Business of Cannabis at LIM College includes the courses listed below, as well as several other cannabis business including:

  • The Business of Cannabis Cultivation and Manufacturing
  • The Cannabis Supply Chain
  • Social and Economic Justice
  • Cannabis and Regulatory Compliance.”

Jennifer Maden: “Whether you are currently working in cannabis with a desire to extend and expand your knowledge and expertise to enhance your skill set, seeking to transfer skills from another career path into cannabis, or ensuring that your firm or industry is better prepared to support the rapidly growing cannabis sector of our economy, Rowan offers options so that you can customize your academic pathway. 

Rowan’s cannabis curriculum offerings focus on business, policy and regulations, and/or cannabinoid science can be pursued as electives within multiple undergraduate or graduate degree pathways, or as standalone certificates. 

The Rowan MBA offers a concentration in cannabis commercialization that focuses primarily on business, but given the critical connections to the sciences and social causes, each MBA student has the opportunity to choose cannabis elective courses outside business to align with their own specific interests and career goals related to the cannabis industry.” 

Michael Zaytsev: “Our undergraduate program is great for people who want to start their career on the business side of the rapidly expanding Cannabis industry. Not only will students have the chance to learn directly from industry leading pioneers, but our undergraduates also complete at least 3 internship experiences before graduating. We designed our programs to make sure that our graduates can go on and make an immediate impact for whatever employer is lucky enough to hire them. 

Our master’s degree program is an excellent choice for career switchers and experienced professionals who want a complete understanding of the many nuances, intricacies and idiosyncrasies that are unique to the Cannabis industry. Now is an especially exciting time to be part of our programs because LIM College, located in midtown Manhattan, has a front row seat to the launch of the adult use Cannabis market in New York.”

What does the syllabus look like for your cannabis degree program/cannabis course?

Rob Mejia: “My class isn’t a traditional class in the sense of research papers. It’s focused on community and discussion that requires class participation. It’s a class set up to help each other out. I build in a lot of flexibility, and we cover things in a ‘this week in cannabis’ discussion at the start of the class. 

Each week we focus on a new part of the industry. We have a pop culture team project where they give examples of cannabis being normalized in mainstream culture, and I have a final exam that consists of 10 or so questions.” 

David Paleschuck: “Evolving. A degree is very broad and as professors, we have to be mindful of what we are offering. People are paying a lot for their education and because of it, they are demanding. So we have to consider what cannabis means to people and filter from there.”

Michael Zaytsev:  “I bever taught in higher ed before I taught my first class. I had an outline but no developed curriculum. I took the approach of: what do my students need from this?”

Brett Puffenbarger: “I reversed engineered my course. We focus on pitch decks, fairly formal executive summaries, SWOT analysis. I’m not big on a syllabus but we do need some level of assessment of  understanding. My thought was to build a course tailored for the broad MBA, but very business person focused.”

Jennifer Maden: “It’s an MBA so it’s going to be rigorous. Our courses are intentionally built online- asynchronous. There is some group work and facetime, it’s very project focused, and graduate level students we reinforce: you’ll get out of it what you put in.” 

What are 3 things that you believe will help students prepare for your course/program?

Rob Mejia: “Curiosity about hemp and cannabis, paying attention to the New Jersey cannabis market, and being open to unexpected opportunities.”

David Paleschuck: “A love for the plant, being comfortable with and around ambiguity, and keeping up to speed with a fast moving industry.”

Jennifer Maden: “Spend some time in self reflection and exploration before researching and then committing to a course or program. One size does not fit all! 

Cross-over talent is in high demand, so identify your best skills and talents where you can bring expertise into cannabis, and then focus your cannabis studies in areas where your knowledge is limited.

Explore where you have gaps in knowledge and skills, then use those gap areas to target how academic studies can allow you to leverage and amplify your impact.”

Michael Zaytsev: “Self awareness of personal values, skills and interests, a clear “why” or purpose for getting into the cannabis industry, and getting familiar with the Cannabis policies in your home state.”

As a former college student and writer, I am so interested in learning about how professors/educators are handling references/sources in this space, seeing as this is a very new industry, and the plant is still somewhat prohibited. How are you all handling/how will you handle it?

Brett Puffenbarger: “We are an industry made up of others. If the paper is on agriculture then give me an agriculture reference. For example, if it’s on cannabis and food, a reference from the food and beverage industry. 

We are building the things we need and students will create what does not exist. Like, there’s a lot of raw data in the state of Florida medical program but no studies. Students will create the research from that raw data. 

Right now, students will have to use multiple resources; resources that show raw data more than resources from others.”

Michael Zaytsev: “I’m going to add that I stress looking at the source and advise students that just because  it looks credible, doesn’t mean that it is. Some of the information out there is Reefer Madness. I advise students to follow the money and take a look at who is funding the source.” 

Jennifer Maden: “I’m working with the university library to build a resource center.”

Quick Note: Brett’s answer had unanimous support (all professors in the discussion agreed.)

Credit: Moraine Valley College

In Closing

Accreditation of cannabis degrees struggle at the federal level due to federal prohibition but; many colleges are accredited at the regional level and with cannabis being state by state, what Koral Fritz, says makes a lot of sense. She is an Assistant Professor of Cannabis Business at LSSU, and quoted above. She supports cannabis programs because they are important for career development and can still be beneficial for career placement/advancement : 

“Providing a supportive learning environment to first generation college students and returning learners is a focus at LSSU. Cannabis programs are designed for, and great for: the curious, innovative, and forward-thinking students who are looking to engage in a regulated and fast-moving industry.Working in the cannabis space is a beautiful opportunity to continuously learn, challenge your own beliefs, and shape the future of a changing world.

The professors in the discussion above leave us with this:

“By pursuing academic studies in cannabis through traditional higher education institutions – which can involve engaging with and building relationships with other students, faculty, and staff within colleges and universities that might have little to no knowledge or exposure to cannabis as an industry or professional path – learners are not only investing in their own lives and careers, but helping to normalize and advance the cannabis industry.”- Jennifer Maden

“It is a privilege working with students who will shape the cannabis and hemp industries. I look forward to seeing them change the world.”- Rob Mejia

It’s wonderful to be helping and supporting the next generation – but perhaps even more important, it’s great to connect with other like minded people doing great things for and in the industry.” – David Paleschuck

“Thank God for cannabis.”- Michael Zaytsev


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