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Four-year universities in Washington state have never implemented marijuana related education until now

cannabis-leaves-sun-image
Sunlight filters through the leaves of a green marijuana in front of a blue sky taken April 10, 2010. Growing plants like these is discussed in the cannabis horticulture classes within the Cannabis Certification program at Western Washington University. // Courtesy of Ryan Van Lenning

By Belle Wright and Gaia Crans

On Jan. 28, Western Washington University announced they are collaborating with Green Flower, a company rooted in cannabis education, to provide Western students with four new cannabis certificate programs. The programs are in business, law and policy, healthcare and medicine and agriculture and horticulture.

Depending on which certificate program a student chooses, classes may include information on cannabis and neurodegenerative disorders, harvesting and drying, deciphering lab results and labeling, common pests attracted to the marijuana plant and processing and manufacturing, according to Green Flower’s website

Each 24-week program includes three fully online eight-week classes costing $2,950 in total.

Robert Squires, the vice provost of outreach and continuing education, said certificate courses are primarily aimed for people not currently enrolled at Western, who may be looking to develop the practical and professional skills they’ll need in this industry. 

The cannabis programs are offered for currently-enrolled students as non-credit courses.  

“We know that this is a growing industry in our state and part of the goals of Western’s Outreach and Continuing Education is to provide lifelong learning opportunities for individuals in the state that can help them find rewarding careers,” Squires said. 

A 2018 study from New Frontier Data predicted that by 2025, legal marijuana sales will earn at least $23 billion in annual sales within the U.S. alone. Though the data shows legal marijuana sales surging in growth,  de-stigmatizing the industry may still have a long way to go. 

Seeing these new certifications being endorsed by a large university may collect a lot of opinions, especially those of long-time staff at Western. 

“It's certainly a bold move for Western,” said Marlene Harlan, Western’s senior director of outreach and continuing education. “I've been here for 27 years and I was a little skeptical to say this is a good path for the university, but the more I looked at the curriculum and the more I thought about it, I knew this is an industry that could exist and grow.”

Harlan believes Green Flower “does really well as far as the academic portion of it goes.”

“Their only partnerships are with higher education institutions, so the quality of the education and instruction staff are really high and met our standards,” Harlan said. 

While Seattle Central Community College has a medical marijuana consultant certificate program, Western is the first four-year institution in Washington state to offer cannabis certificate programs, Harlan said.

The idea of having courses regarding the cannabis field at Western began with a conversation between Squires and Josh Kaplan, a professor within the Behavioral Neuroscience Program.

Kaplan said the main focus of the research lab is to better understand and optimize the developmental effects and the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

Squires and Kaplan reached out to Green Flower to review their courses, and agreed Green Flower’s curriculum was impressive.

Daniel Kalef, vice president of higher education at Green Flower who is responsible for finding new universities to partner with, said they spoke with a number of universities throughout Washington to decide what school would be the best partner before deciding on Western. 

“The folks at Western were really just fantastic,” Kalef said. “They really seemed to have the right goals in mind, they agreed with our belief that Washington had some pent-up demand for these programs, and they had a great group of folks within their Continuing Education Department that understood this kind of program could make a difference.”

Regarding the importance of entering the cannabis industry, “People across a variety of different illnesses or conditions don’t respond to traditional medications, and that’s including epilepsy, anxiety, depression,” Kaplan said. “I think cannabis allows a unique insight into targeting new systems in the brain and body.”

Luc Carlin, a former Western student and part-owner of Bellingham cannabis company Space Weed, echoed this appreciation of the program while touching on Bellingham’s long-standing cannabis culture. 

“I think this is an amazing thing and opportunity Western is doing,” Carlin said. “I think this attracts a specific portion of the Western population who are really into the industry, and I think there's a lot of them because Western and Bellingham have such a rich culture of cannabis.”

Carlin said the cannabis industry is underdeveloped in some ways, and the newly founded commercial side needs pioneers to change it.

Sean Wu, administrator at local Bellingham dispensary Green Leaf Recreational Cannabis, said he was surprised at Western’s decision to implement the program, but is glad it will help present career opportunities within the field.

When marijuna was first legalized in Washington state, Wu, a Western student at the time, said he received an email from the university stating marijuana use was not authorized on campus. Because Western gets federal funding and marijuana is still federally illegal, the university could not allow it despite state laws.  

“We're gonna see some big growth here soon I believe, so if the state administration can legalize it federally I think we'll definitely see large success in the industry and for jobs,” Wu said.


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