Starting Next year, Olive-Harvey College in Pullman, Illinois, will offer an Associate of Science Degree in Applied Cannabis Studies. It will be the first community college in the state to offer a cannabis-related degree, WGN9 reports. The courses in the curriculum will include cannabis and the law, hemp horticulture, basic chemistry, and general botany.

The degree is designed to help interested students enter the cannabis industry and develop sustaining career paths as consultants, extraction technicians, cultivators, and dispensary operators.

“Our students will have an opportunity to have a hands-on experience with our hemp plants. Cultivation, how to run your own dispensary. The good thing about this new degree is it’s science-based,” said Dr. Kimberly Hollingsworth, Olive-Harvey College president.

The campus also built a state-of-the-art greenhouse to help students learn how to grow and maintain hemp as part of the program. Only 140 students can be registered in the AA program at a time. The program promises to teach an array of disciplines, offering students an opportunity to enter the industry educated on cannabis agriculture, technology, and law. After completing the two-year program, students will be prepped to move on to other STEM-related degrees at a four-year college or university. 

The degree program is also meant to help give those who regularly face inequity a better understanding of the application process and the industry as a whole, ideally to give them a head start on what to expect. Everett Berry was one of those minority entrepreneurs who struggled to break into the cannabis industry. Berry now owns the Mias Heart Hemp Collective and is getting ready to sell his products when the Bronzeville Smoke Shop in Illinois.

“We are about to erect a brand-new state-of-the-art manufacturing hemp plant in the 21st ward [of Chicago],” Berry said. “We’re looking to provide at least 200 positions.”

Hiring educated students who have an understanding of how cannabis works will give them an advantage in getting into the industry and rising the ranks. In July, Illinois issued nearly 150 new cannabis retail licenses. Of those, 41% are majority Black-owned, and just 4% are Latinx-owned.

“We know that inequity exists,” Dr. Hollingsworth said. “This [degree] gives our students a leg up in that application process.”

While other universities and community colleges offer courses on cannabis, none of which offer full-degree programs. Southwestern Illinois College, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Illinois, Springfield, are among the few that offer cannabis-related courses.

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