Opportunity abounds in cannabis markets across the US. In 2018, investors poured $10 billion into the industry. Excelsior College, one of the oldest nonprofit distance education providers in the US, is now offering a Graduate Certificate in Cannabis Control to prepare students to meet the need. This three-course, nine-credit certificate takes an interdisciplinary approach and covers topics like interstate commerce, regulatory compliance, and risk assessment.
Cannabis industry workers include dispensary owners, growers, public sector employees, and more. Finding educational information explicitly targeting this group can be challenging. Another stumbling block facing potential cannabis workers is the need to learn laws and compliance measures that differ state by state. Nevada’s cannabis market is not identical to California’s and vice versa. Without federal guidance, states are left to craft their own rules.
“Since Cannabis is still a Schedule I drug at the federal level and states have taken different paths toward legalization, there are policies at various levels that must be adhered to in order to remain compliant,” notes Gretchen Schmidt, the faculty program director of Criminal Justice and Paralegal Studies at Excelsior.
A focus on compliance measures and regulations form the backbone of Excelsior’s program. Students should be well versed in the law to succeed in cannabis-related endeavors. Ten years ago, legal recreational cannabis didn’t exist in the US. The industry was limited to a handful of medical markets. But industry expansion has been rapid and not without growing pains. However, new and better policies continuously emerge.
“Compliance with local and state regulations are a minimum requirement to succeed in this space. But they are also important because sound regulation works to the benefit and wellbeing of all stakeholders. Compliance with local and state regulations helps demonstrate good faith effort to do what is right for the protection of humans,” says Schmidt.
“This is particularly important as cannabis becomes legal in more places, and the stigma around the plant begins to fade. Demonstrating how you will be keeping the community safe from a product that is still illegal at the federal level takes a deep understanding of policy and compliance.”
One of the program’s advantages is that it offers a breadth of scope–it’s not centered on a particular state or locale. Instead, students examine the variations between state and even international policies. For example, in a course titled “Implications of Legalization of Cannabis: Policy and Compliance,” students discuss 2018’s Farm Bill and the effect that it’s had on the cultivation and sale of hemp.
The cannabis world is so diverse that students from various backgrounds can find value in Excelsior’s certificate.
Schmidt explains, “We think this program would be attractive to individuals in a wide variety of fields related to the legal cannabis industry and its regulation…individuals currently employed in the space, from seed to sale…people interested in learning more about how to enter the sector as an entrepreneurial opportunity…professional fields that can provide ancillary services to the sector…among others.”
Students can complete the program in six months. The credits earned are applicable toward any of the school’s master degree programs. In fact, in Spring 2021, Excelsior plans to launch concentrations in Cannabis Control for the Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Administration, Master of Science in Health Sciences, and Master of Science in Criminal Justice.
Right now, the Graduate Certificate in Cannabis Control certificate consists of three eight-week courses. However, the school is open to the possibility of expanding the program.
“We are still early in providing education in this space but the interest from prospective students has been really good,” Schmidt says.
“And, we know that this sector is dynamic and changes rapidly, so we can envision providing timely training and education on-demand as we move forward…There also might be opportunities to expand at the undergraduate level too.”
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