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Vermont colleges look to bring cannabis into the classroom

Evan Johnson
Evan Johnson 28 Mar 2019

As cannabis moves further into the public eye, Vermont colleges are weighing programs that prepare students for jobs cultivating, marketing, or researching the plant. This year, two options are coming online in Vermont at Champlain College and Castleton University.  

At Champlain College, Dr. Elaine Young at the Stiller School of Business will instruct a new class this fall, titled Special Topics in Cannabis Marketing.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years,” she says. “And thinking about what it would look like if we taught a class about this.”

When Champlain’s marketing program revised their curriculum and Vermont moved to legalize the possession and cultivation of cannabis last year, Young decided the time was right.

“We’re going to look at the historical context, we’re going to look at the ethical, social justice and equity issues. We’re going to look at legal and regulatory environments.”  – Dr. Elaine Young, Champlain College

“It’s something that is so rich for students, myself and others to really dig into from many ways of thinking,” she says. “If you think of something from an interdisciplinary way of thinking about business and how we are in society, what a fascinating topic.”

While in the marketing department, the class is open to students of all majors. Young says she expect to recruit students majoring in criminal justice, psychology, social works and more. The specifics of the course are in development and Young is in still arranging the guest speakers.  

“A lot of people are excited, a lot of people want to come in and speak,” she says.  

While she can’t name any names yet, Young says her goal is to bring in diverse perspectives

“We have a thriving community of different individuals who are passionate about different parts of cannabis,” Young says. “That includes industrials hemp growers, medical marijuana, recreational, health and beauty products and more.”

With each of these applications of the plant comes an entire array of topics for discussion. Young says she wants to see her students dig into these areas as they work on an individual project over the course of the semester.

“We’re going to look at the historical context, we’re going to look at the ethical, social justice and equity issues. We’re going to look at legal and regulatory environments,” she says.

A comment from Dr. Elaine Young, recorded at the Vermont Statehouse during Cannabis In The Capitol, February 2019

Champlain College isn’t alone. With a boom in cannabis related jobs, colleges are responding with course offerings and even majors or minors. Even in states where recreational cannabis remains illegal, the Associated Press has reported colleges in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have launched their own programs.

But while cannabis remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, some complications arise. The University of Vermont’s Lerner College of Medicine does have offerings related to cannabis, including pharmacology and the plant’s medical applications. The school also offers a seven-week online professional certificate course.

UVM’s Career Center is not currently facilitating any job postings, internships, or on-campus recruiting by employers who work directly with cannabis, or its derivatives.

However, in complying with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which requires institutions of higher learning employ “standards of conduct that clearly prohibit, at a minimum, the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees on its property or as part of its activities,” UVM’s Career Center is not currently facilitating any job postings, internships, or on-campus recruiting by employers who work directly with cannabis, or its derivatives.

The Career Center is currently working with leadership in the Vice Provost and Dean of Students Office to issue formal guidance for prospective employers regarding eligibility to participate in UVM Career Center initiatives. Enrique Corredera, UVM’s director of news and public affairs, said the school aims to have this guidance posted by the start of the fall semester.

This summer, Castleton University unveils its own Cannabis Studies Certificate Program. The 12-credit cannabis certificate program involves four courses and a 50-hour internship.

“We thought it was our duty to start challenging them and try and engage the public in a fact-based discussion of all things cannabis.”
– Professor Philip Lamy, Castleton University

According to a draft overview, the program “will provide a gateway to the growing arena of cannabis industries, enterprises, and the field of cannabis studies, and attractive to enrolled students, as a magnet for new students, and as way to provide for the needs of working Vermonters.”

The program is open to both enrolled and non-matriculating students. Vermont businesses in cannabis-related fields have inquired about having their employees sign up as part of their training.

Castleton sociology professor Philip Lamy said the motivation behind creating the program was a desire to set the record straight when the legalization debate arrived in Vermont.

“There was a lot of bad or exaggerated information out there, some coming from law enforcement, medical experts or political personalities,” he says. “We thought it was our duty to start challenging them and try and engage the public in a fact-based discussion of all things cannabis.”  

The program received faculty approval at a recent meeting in addition to support from Castleton’s president and dean of academics. The first course will debut this summer, with the other three beginning in the fall. If the program proves popular enough, it may expand to be a minor or a major.

“We’ve already got people signing up,” Lamy says. “I’m getting emails and phone calls every day.”

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