Study marijuana, get credit

Stockton University's minor in cannabis studies will feature classes on cannabis law, economic botany, and business operations. (Big Stock image)

Stockton University's minor in cannabis studies will feature classes on cannabis law, economic botany, and business operations. (Big Stock image)

How do you break the news to your parents that you have found a new academic interest and want to get a minor in marijuana?

You could tell them that you’re already spending time studying marijuana — and you might as well get college credit for it. 

Believe it or not, Stockton University in Galloway has launched a minor in cannabis studies, thought to be the first in New Jersey and one of the few such programs in the nation. So far, about 30 students are taking classes that make up the minor requirement, according to faculty coordinator Ekaterina Sedia.

Students completing the minor could have an advantage in entering a fast-growing industry.

New Jersey is one of 31 states that offer medical marijuana, and the Legislature will likely vote soon on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana.

Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said legalization will jump-start the  industry that could be worth more than $1 billion in a year or two, hitting $2 billion by 2021.

After Colorado legalized marijuana, Rudder said, 30,000 jobs were created.

“New Jersey’s population is nearly double that of Colorado. We’re going to be in very good standing in very short order,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t realize how big this industry is,” said Sedia, who predicted legalizing the industry will spread far beyond those growing and selling marijuana in New Jersey.

“We’re looking to provide the students with some experience, so that if they want to enter this industry, they have a little bit of an advantage,” she said.

Answering critics

Some have criticized Stockton’s move, particularly those who say the university is encouraging marijuana use by offering the minor.

“We’re not,” she said. “It is possible to take this minor and never see a marijuana plant in person. Most students will never interact with the plant in any shape or form.”

Students interested in law school or a career in law enforcement will want to understand how the legal landscape is changing, while students interested in a business degree, working in data security or in IT may want to gain a foothold in what many expect to be a growth industry.

To complete the minor, students will be required to take Introduction to Medical Marijuana, Cannabis Law and Internship Preparation, which includes cannabis research and basic small business operations. Students can intern in cultivation, energy efficiency, small-business operations, communications, social media, retail operations and patient research.

Electives include courses on hydroponics, holistic health, and botany.

There’s much to learn about the cannabis plant, said Sedia,who teaches plant ecology and botany at Stockton.

Because of climate and security concerns, as well as consistency, the state’s licensed medical facilities grow their crops indoors under artificial light. Every variable can have an impact on the final product — from the intensity of light to the soil to the humidity and temperature and more.

She compared the process to growing a Jersey tomato.

“You know the difference between one grown inside and outside. You can usually taste the difference,” she said.

Along with the seed stock used, these variables can change a marijuana plant’s rate of growth, its color and flavor — as well as its potency and effectiveness.

In addition to the well-known chemicals THC and CBD, Sedia said, “there are any number of chemicals we know very little about.”

Study has been limited in the United States, where marijuana remains listed as a Schedule I drug, the designation for the most dangerous controlled substances.

“Research is very, very limited,” she said.

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