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Northern Michigan University in Marquette now offers a four-year degree in Medicinal Plant Chemistry, concentrating on marijuana. The program combines rigorous science courses, including organic chemistry, plant physiology, botany, genetics, and physical geography, with classes on accounting and financial management. Graduating students will be prepared not only to perform chemical plant analysis in a laboratory, but to establish a growing facility, laboratory, and dispensary of their own.
One of the required courses, Chemistry 402, teaches the history of medicinal plant use, cannabis chemistry, and extraction and purification techniques. Though students cannot handle marijuana on campus, they have many opportunities to intern in licensed marijuana businesses.
With medical marijuana legal in 29 states and the legal marijuana industry projected to reach $44 billion by 2020, there is a shortage of qualified marijuana scientists. Several universities offer undergraduate courses in marijuana, but NMU is the first to offer a marijuana major. Oaksterdam University in California offers a one-semester certification for students who want to work in the marijuana industry. At the University of Denver, you can take a course on the Business of Marijuana. This spring, UC at Davis began offering the Physiology of Cannabis for undergraduates, and the law school at Vanderbilt University has a course on Marijuana Law and Policy.
Other universities are expected to follow suit
According to the Marijuana Business Daily, in 2016 the marijuana industry already employed more than 100,000 workers, and most of these worked directly in the cultivation and processing of marijuana plants. While jobs in manufacturing, the government, and utility companies are declining, the legal marijuana industry is expected to create 250,000 new jobs by 2020, opening many career opportunities for graduating students.
Marijuana science is advancing at a record pace. In 2015, the American Chemical Society established an official subdivision, Cannabis Chemistry (CANN). Its mission is to work directly with the cannabis industry to improve methods of extraction and purification, and the quality of marijuana products. CANN regularly presents scholarly papers at the annual meetings of the American Chemical Society, aiming to be recognized as the leading authority on the processing and analysis of cannabis.