Fall 2019: Cornell will offer courses on the "biology, society and industry" of cannabis!

Cornell will offer courses on the "biology, society and industry" of cannabis starting Fall 2019

Carlyn Buckler, Ithaca News, August 8th, 2019

rWith marijuana increasingly decriminalized, but not yet legalized in New York and nationwide, Cornell University is taking advantage of the burgeoning commercial industry that softening attitudes toward marijuana are sure to inspire by becoming one of several schools that will begin teaching courses in cannabis. 

The course, Cannabis: Biology, Society and Industry, will give students a background in dealing with cannabis through several academic lenses and contexts. Carlyn S. Buckler, an associate professor of practice with Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science, created the course to help students garner more skills within the cannabis industry. 

The course is designed to explore the history, culture, pharmacology, breeding, horticulture, equity, policy and legal challenges of cannabis and its industry. The class will also be an effort to inform and stimulate new ideas for anyone entering the cannabis industry in the future. 

Buckler was motivated by the noticeable profitability of the industry, but realized there are numerous hurdles in the path to a career in the field. 

“The potential profitability of this industry is clear, but the obstacles to its economic and industrial development are significant and include establishing better agricultural supply chains, breeding research to develop more vigorous and disease-resistant varieties, refining/improving farming practices, as well as policy and legal challenges associated with cannabis,” Buckler said. “According to Indeed.com, there are around 5,000 job openings in the industry to date; but entrepreneurs say they need people with a breadth of knowledge of the industry—not just breeding, pest management, agricultural supply chains, etc., but also the legal and policy aspects, as well as best practices for business, marketing, and communication.” 

During Cornell’s early registration in April 2019, 50 people signed up for the course. Buckler is confident the class will be at maximum capacity, 200 students this year, though she has plans to expand the cap in the following years. Putting the course together was not difficult, she said, especially considering her background in plant genetics. 

“I can talk about the biology of the plant, breeding efforts, farming practices, etc.,” Buckler said. “I am having other professionals at Cornell come in and talk about plant pathology and microbe biology, as well as a pharmacologist from University of Binghamton, a specialist in cannabis policy from the Brookings Institute, a lawyer who understands law in the industry, and several entrepreneurs, some of whom also specialize in helping the underserved population become entrepreneurs.”

Recently, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced work will commence on the nation’s only Industrial Hemp Germplasm Repository (IHGR), located at Cornell University. This program will be rebuilt with an initial $500,000 investment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU) located at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. 

With an abundance of jobs opening up in the world of cannabis, there are plenty of majors and concentrations that pair well with this field. 

“Everything from plant breeding and pest management, to human ecology, veterinary medicine, pharmacology, law/policy, and entrepreneurship,” Buckler said. “I am thrilled that there is already a diversity of people in the course. As one expects, many are from plant science, animal science, entomology, etc. But there is about 35 percent of the class who are interested in environmental sustainability, international agriculture, global, and public health, the Johnson School of Management, the Dyson School, the School of Hotel Administration, and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The class is project-based, and the student will often be working with others outside their field.”

The course’s only prerequisite  is a college-level introduction to biology course. 

One of the challenges in assembling the class was ensuring that Buckler could find the best people outside of Cornell, which is crucial to the course's success. There’s still a significant amount of misinformation about cannabis, and she wanted to find content based on peer-reviewed scientific information. 

Currently, the program is under consideration for development into a new specialization under the master of professional studies in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. For now, it will act as an introduction to the proposed master’s degree program, which is still under review but could debut as early as the fall 2020 semester.

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