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‘Cannabis Studies’ program launched at Roanoke College


Program director says opposition comes from ‘outdated’ knowledge

Students at Roanoke College will soon be able to major in “cannabis studies.”

The private Virginia college will begin offering a major and minor this upcoming semester.

Program Director DorothyBelle Poli told The College Fix via email that majors can “go directly into the industry as growing/analysis scientists” or “as business owners with more knowledge (most likely double majoring in business at this time).”

Other potential fields include “law, social work, education, secondary support businesses (like accounting, taxes), or going into things like politics,” Poli said.

Cannabis can be grown for personal use in Virginia and can be sold for medicinal purposes. However, it is currently illegal to sell it for recreational use.

There are fewer than 30 similar programs in the country, aimed at filling cannabis job openings. “Conversations with cannabis industry leaders, including several who are Roanoke College alumni, revealed a dearth of qualified, educated candidates for the many jobs springing up in the field,” the college stated in its news release.

The college says there were nearly half a million “full-time equivalent jobs” in the “legal cannabis” field as of January 2022.

A similar program Northern Michigan University projected students could get “position[s] paying $70,000 right out of school.”

The curriculum will include two tracks.

“The cannabis science track will focus on the science of the industry, exploring botany, biology and chemistry,” according to the college. “[W]hile the second track will cover the social justice and governmental policy around cannabis legislation, giving students perspective on the history of the plant, its regulation and prohibition in the U.S. and around the world, and the consequences to different population groups.”

“Our program has the added strength of a liberal arts perspective. We strive to create critical thinkers who can articulate their ideas verbally and in writing,” Poli (pictured) told The Fix. “We want people to learn how to see the big picture and not to focus in a small tiny realm.”

MORE: British study finds cannabis use linked to psychosis

However, the new degree is “concerning” to at least one group.

“The implications of an institution of higher education offering a degree in cannabis are concerning and serious,” Scott Chipman, vice president of Americans Against Legalizing Marijuana, told The Fix via email. “There is an enormous amount of misinformation and a large gap of knowledge related to this drug. It is critically important to the health and safety of society to close that gap.”

He said, “it should be noted that the FDA has not approved a marketing application for cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition. . .no testing has indicated it is efficacious to treat ailments.”

“In fact, the opposite has been determined. . . statistically no one becomes addicted to ‘hard’ drugs without going through pot to get to that drug,” Chipman said.

Poli said people with moral concerns about the drug should also want “correct information available from proper scientific and academic rigor.”

The program director said “right now the data is not clear and we should strive to correct that.”

“I want the right data in the hands of people so they can make informed decisions,” the program director told The Fix.

Backlash to the program, Poli said, comes “in the form of people who grew up during the Nixon/Reagan years of politics and the Just Say No campaigns.”

“Their knowledge about [cannabis] is often outdated and around the idea that it’s a gateway drug,” Poli said. “This has been shown to not be true in both medical, psychological and even economic work from the last couple years.”

After publication, she provided The Fix with further information, citing a 2021 study challenging the idea marijuana is a gateway drug.

Chipman does not hold the same optimism.

“Yes, education and study, and more importantly the distribution of studies, need attention, but it appears this program will be focused on teaching a profiteering-on-harm-and-addiction career strategy,” he said.

Editor’s note: The status of cannabis in Virginia has been clarified. Additionally, a citation about from Poli has been added.

MORE: New York will spend $5 million on cannabis college programs

IMAGES: Dmitry_Tischenko/Getty Images; Roanoke College; College Fix edits

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Anna Wascovich is a recent graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, with a B.A. in English, British and American literature concentration. She will attend the the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law in fall 2024.