As the legalization movement sweeps across the U.S., the marijuana sector is churning out tens of thousands of jobs. It means the market will require skilled workers to fill those open positions, and support the booming legal weed industry.
Enter Northern Michigan University (NMU), which in 2017 cut the ribbon on a four-year degree with a curriculum dedicated to medicinal plant chemistry. According to the program’s director, students are essentially being immersed in the natural sciences which is hardly unique at American universities.
This particular major, however, comes with an added twist.
“At the undergraduate level, we've tried to take some of the experiences... that a chemistry student might get in graduate school working on a master's or a PhD, and we've kind of funneled that into a four-year undergraduate program,” Brandon Canfield, NMU’s associate professor of chemistry, told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview.
“The whole program itself is a chemistry degree,” he said, adding that a number of students interested in the program has recently exploded to over 200.
According to Canfield, NMU’s medicinal plant program is similar if not identical to science majors offered by other colleges and universities. The curriculum includes organic chemistry, biochemistry, and biology.
But at NMU there’s “a focus on the analysis of the plant,” Canfield said. “What are the compounds in the plants, how do you get them out, how do they change when you take them out, how do they change when you're producing other products, edibles, topicals, that sort of thing.”
Future graduates in high demand
Meanwhile, future graduates of the university’s medicinal plant program are already drawing substantial interest from potential employers, especially as the legal pot movement continues to grow at the state and local level.
NMU’s degree program has two separate tracks: A focus on bioanalytics, and another on entrepreneurship. “And it's about a 50/50 split right now in the interest of the students,” Canfield said.
Many students are gravitating toward the pure science behind legal weed, making Canfield believe that a future lies ahead in which “the analytical laboratory brand or label is more recognizable, or more sought after, than the grower or the manufacturer.”
Canfield told Yahoo Finance that “anywhere where we're seeing these states lifting the legal restrictions, we're seeing investors jumping in, people contacting us, asking about graduates” and other elements of legal marijuana, he said.
Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, pot entrepreneurs have been stymied by laws that restrict banks from handling the proceeds of weed sales. However, the booming pot industry has given way to a new breed of financial institutions operating outside those restrictions.
“And I think as soon as we see the banking restrictions lifted, I mean, it's just going to explode,” Canfield added.
Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Read more:
Follow Javier on Twitter: @TeflonGeek