Higher Education: How Bay Area schools prepare students for the cannabis industry

Bay Area

PLEASANT HILL (KRON) — The cannabis industry is being called one of the fastest growing sectors of job growth in the U.S. as more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana.

But who’s training that workforce? KRON4’s Maureen Kelly takes a look at ‘higher education.’

The most popular class offered by Horticulture Department of Pleasant Hill’s Diablo Valley College is Controlled Growth.

Students are instructed in how to use popular marijuana growing methods like hydroponics and aquaponics.

Due to DVC being a drug free campus, the students are growing microgreens and basil, not pot.​

The word cannabis is not even mentioned in the course description but the Dean of Sciences says they began offering this class for credit because they recognize to growing need for workers in the marijuana industry.​

“There’s going to be an increase in jobs and it’s a multibillion dollar industry,” said the Dean of Sciences at DVC, Joe Gorga. “It’s gonna pay employees a good living wage in the Bay Area and we need to meet able to make sure that we’re providing our students those opportunities​.”

To get the closest thing to a degree in Cannabis, students will need to trade out their flip flops for snow boots.​ ​

In 2017, Northern Michigan University became the first accredited U.S. college to offer a what amounts to a Marijuana Major.​ ​

At DVC, students who sign up to earn their degree in Medicinal Plant Chemistry don’t touch pot plants.

They instead learn to measure and extract medicinal compounds from things like St. John’s-wort and Ginseng.

The skills can later transfer to cannabis.

And don’t get the wrong idea — stoner students looking for an easy A, are advised to look elsewhere. ​

“I would put it up there with any of our other chemistry degree programs,” said chemistry professor Brandon Canfield. “Everyone’s taking the same organic chemistry, everyone’s taking the same biochemistry. These are not easy courses.”​

Professor Canfield came up with the idea for the major after learning about an urgent need for qualified chemists to handle cannabis quality control.

“When we first proposed it, we weren’t sure how far it was going to go,” he explains. “If anyone outside the department would ever hear about it, if anyone outside the university would ever hear about it. People saw the numbers and the need and were convinced.”​

It’s an idea that’s proving to be popular. So far, it’s drawn 300 students from 48 states.

The Controlled Growth class at DVC is completely full.

Some students say they are taking the class because the organic farming methods being taught can be used in all kinds of greenhouse grown crops.

But several say they could see a career in cannabis in their future.​ ​

“I’m really interested in the cannabis side of it because of where the industry is going and it’s our responsibility as horticulturists to make sure that what we produce is ethical and organic and clean and healthy for people,” a student said.

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