MARQUETTE, Mich. (WWJ) - It's the first college program of its kind in the country -- training students for the medical marijuana industry -- and it's happening right here in Michigan.
Northern Michigan University in Marquette is the first college to offer an undergraduate major in medicinal plant chemistry, starting this fall.
"This area is just exploding. I mean, you see Washington, Colorado, Oregon, California with full legal recreational marijuana. You've got over half the states with medicinal legal, and with all of that has come a huge need for these trained analytical chemists," associate chemistry professor Brandon Canfield told WWJ's Beth Fisher. "In terms of a four-year regular undergraduate degree, there's nothing else like this."
Before students get the wrong idea about the program, Canfield said it won't be all hands on with marijuana.
"We're not going to be actually growing anything on campus. Maybe following the 2018 Michigan election, maybe we'll revisit that depending on the outcome and what ballots are present on that election. But for now, we're not going to be growing any cannabis. We'll be practicing extraction and analysis techniques on other plant systems," he said. "That process from one plant system to another is not too different. But we will be focusing on cannabis chemistry in our classes. We'll also be looking at the separation and analysis of the cannabinoids and the various terpenes and things present in cannabis and other compounds present in other plants."
Canfield says the school decided to start the major because of the booming medical marijuana industry.
"The need for this is so great. You go to some of these cannabis industry conferences and everyone is talking about how they need labs, they need labs," he said. "Or the bigger operations are trying to set up their own labs in house and they need trained analysts. And the skill set required to perform these analysis is perfectly matched with an undergraduate level education."
Students who graduate from the program's bio-analytical track are going to be highly sought after job candidates, Canfield predicts, or they can take the entrepreneurial track if they want to start their own medical marijuana facility.
"I predict that the graduates from our program are going to have among the highest immediate job placement of any of our programs," he said. "People are either going to go out and get jobs or they might go out and start their own business in the industry."
Canfield says they have 12 students are enrolled in the program's inaugural semester this fall, but that's expected to change.
"A small incoming class this year but we're expecting two to three times that number come next year," he said. "Everyone who hears about it seems pretty interested in it, and most people are pretty excited."
To learn more about the school's medicinal plant chemistry program, visit nmu.edu.
for more features.