In San Diego, higher education is getting even higher as US pot industry booms

A bud tender displays a jar of cannabis at the High Times 420 SoCal Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino, Calif. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

The legalization of marijuana for medicinal use in 33 states and for recreational use in 11, including California, is giving birth to a cannabis cottage industry and with it a new educational field.

Last August, the University of California, Davis, known for its agricultural curriculum, added a Cannabis and Hemp Research Center that assembled experts in marijuana law, business, cultivation, medicine, psychiatry and veterinary treatment. It also offers courses in hemp breeding, seed production, genetics and pharmacology.

Tiny Pacific College of Health and Science, with one of its three U.S. campuses in San Diego, is getting the word out about its cannabis component. “Become a master of marijuana,” it advertises, touting “the first college-level, accredited medical cannabis certificate in the nation.” One of its programs caters to health care professionals and another to non-health care professionals.

Last November, San Diego City College began offering a two-unit course on the business of cannabis cultivation for budding entrepreneurs.

This fall, the private Catholic Church-affiliated University of San Diego is jumping on the weed bandwagon through its continuing education program, which enrolls 16,000 students a year. With the COVID-19 pandemic curtailing on-campus education, online programs have become even more crucial.

Marijuana has long been a subject for study. In the year 2000 the University of California’s San Diego campus established a Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research to examine the plant’s effects on health and possible uses for treatment of pain and specific diseases.

With unemployment skyrocketing, though, the blossoming cannabis business as a potential job market has gotten universities’ attention.

USD and four other U.S. colleges, including UC Riverside, are teaming up with Green Flower Media, a cannabis education company, to offer an online six-month certificate program designed to fill jobs in the growing legalized marijuana industry.

As part of the partnership, Green Flower provides the educational materials and promises preferential consideration for job placement through its employer network, including CannabizTeam, a national recruiter headquartered in San Diego.

Andrew Drotos, who heads USD’s extended studies program, says the seed was planted when he met Green Flower Media reps at a continuing education conference a year and a half ago in Seattle. Over the past year, they have worked to bring the idea to fruition.

When USD hired Drotos in 2018, his marching orders were to detect emerging opportunities within industries, look for skills gaps in the local work force and explore creating partnerships to fill those skills.

The legal marijuana industry already accounts for 243,700 full-time U.S. jobs, according to Leafly, a cannabis information website which analyzes data and publishes an annual jobs count. It projected 10,000 new cannabis-related jobs in 2019 in California alone.

Such growth has caught the attention of Kevin Murphy, who reports on the industry for Forbes magazine. While job growth discussions tend to focus on technology and health care, “the biggest boom may be happening in cannabis,” Murphy writes.

The Indeed job search app currently shows 920 cannabis industry positions open in California and 4,325 open nationwide. A Green Flower rep explained that, in addition to sales, marketing and management positions, there is demand for master growers, dispensary agents, cultivation directors, bud tenders, quality reviewers, lab technicians and client relations personnel, to mention a few.

The legalized marijuana industry is certainly on the landscape. But would adding courses in it cause a problem for a faith-based university? Drotos cites a Pew Research Center study in which 67% of Americans polled think marijuana should be legal for recreational use. Approval jumps to 91% in regard to medical use.

Nevertheless Drotos didn’t want any controversy, so he ran the idea up USD’s academic ladder.

“I wanted to make sure nobody at the institution was surprised,” he says.

So he created a proposal with backup data “and went through my boss, the vice provost, and presented it to the academic senate. The president reviewed it to give us the green light before we went forward,” Drotos adds.

While the concept wasn’t opposed, Drotos reports, some in the administration would have been more comfortable if marijuana use was approved on the federal level.

Green Flower created four 24-week certificate programs related to cannabis: business, agriculture, law and policy, and health care and medicine. Beginning this September, USD plans to offer two of them —cannabis law and health care (at a cost of $2,950 each) —with the possible addition of other categories later.

“We wanted to see how it went, see how popular it is and decide if we want to add others later on,” Drotos says.

— Diane Bell, The San Diego Union-Tribune, via McClatchy