The Case for Cannabis in Higher Education

The demand for cannabis in higher education is stronger than ever. The rapidly growing cannabis industry is creating a multitude of jobs that require an educated and skilled workforce. Legislative and regulatory barriers have historically caused universities and other academic institutions to shy away from cannabis, but as cultural attitudes change and scientific breakthroughs continue to emerge, the stigma around cannabis in higher education is rapidly eroding. Workers at every level of the industry are seeking out cannabis-specific education and training programs in unprecedented numbers.


Cannabis is Big Business, and It’s Growing

According to a report by the research group New Frontier Data, the United States cannabis industry is projected to reach $30 billion annually by 2025. The legal cannabis sector is the most prolific job creator in the U.S., supporting more than 428,000 jobs.

In the Great Resignation, American workers are changing jobs in record numbers in search of better pay, work-life balance, and feeling valued at work, and many of these career changers are finding a home in the growing cannabis industry. Higher education programs will need to multiply to keep up with the increasing demand for cannabis education.


Medical and Scientific Research in Cannabis

The federally illegal status of cannabis has historically prevented most universities from conducting scientific research on cannabis. However, a growing consensus among medical professionals supports increased research on the use of medical cannabis for treating health conditions. In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved new cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, including Sativex, Epidiolex, and Nabilone, and recent studies have found that cannabinoids including cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) have shown potential for treatment and prevention of COVID-19 by binding to the spike protein preventing it from getting into our cells [1], or by potently blocking the replication of the virus in the lungs [2].

The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in March 2022 to promote the expansion of cannabis research. The measure would streamline the research process for cannabis and encourage the FDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop medical cannabis medicines and research. The measure had broad support from mainstream medical organizations, and it passed the Senate vote unanimously with no debate.

This latest bill builds on a growing number of federal and state bills meant to reduce barriers to medical cannabis research, which under prohibition has been historically extremely limited due to federal regulations. More studies about the uses of cannabinoids are ongoing, and the importance of university research and education will only grow.


Who Needs Cannabis Higher Education?

At any career stage, workers with cannabis-specific education are in demand.

Beginners in their career will find a multitude of options for types of jobs in the cannabis industry. The greatest need is for workers with specialized training and skills. Higher education cannabis programs are needed to help entry-level and beginning workers to develop needed skills and qualifications.

Cannabis professionals already employed in the industry are increasingly seeking out higher education to learn skills, gain exposure to opportunities, or specialize within a career track. As higher education program offerings continue to expand, those looking to grow or pivot within their career in the cannabis industry are seeking a wide range of academic options.

Seasoned professionals are sought after, especially those who can successfully leverage previous experience in other industries. Because the industry is in its infancy, career changers tend to find themselves in good company as newcomers to cannabis. Higher education programs can help experienced professionals gain knowledge, skills, and a professional network within the cannabis space.


Answering the Call for Cannabis in Higher Education

Cannabis higher education programs can provide specialized skills and training to prepare students for rewarding careers in the industry. Settings can include community colleges, universities, graduate certificates, online programs, and on-the-job workforce training.

Below are some examples of cannabis higher education programs to prepare graduates for careers in the industry.

Cannabis Technical and Scientific Education

  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Extraction science
  • Horticulture
  • Laboratory science
  • Soil science


Cannabis Business Education

  • Business management
  • Cannabis accounting
  • Inventory control
  • Logistics
  • Marketing
  • Purchasing
  • Supply chain management


Cannabis Legal and Regulatory Education

  • Advocacy
  • Cannabis law
  • Regulatory compliance

Cultural acceptance of cannabis is increasing as the stigma lifts and federal legalization is closer. According to the most recent Gallup poll, more than two in three Americans support legalizing cannabis. Universities and academic institutions will need to expand educational offerings and research programs to meet the need for cannabis in higher education.



[1] van Breemen RB, Muchiri RN, Bates TA, et al. Cannabinoids block cellular entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the emerging variants. J Nat Prod. 2022;85(1):176-184. [journal impact factor = 4.050; times cited = 9]


[2] Nguyen LC, Yang D, Nicolaescu V, et al. Cannabidiol inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication through induction of the host ER stress and innate immune responses. Sci Adv. 2022;8(8). [journal impact factor = 14.14; times cited = 7]

About the author

Gretchen Schmidt, JD, MS, MBA

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