Considering a career change, longtime Henderson resident Connie Kling signed up to take a trio of UNLV continuing education courses on cannabis and the burgeoning industry surrounding it.
“The courses are very extensive,” Kling said. “They go into great detail and are very informative. They were beneficial.”
Designed in conjunction with the Academy of Cannabis Science, UNLV is offering three non-credit courses, which are conducted remotely online and begin later this month.
The courses — called cannabis professional, pets and cannabis, and cannabis and the opioid epidemic — officially begin Jan. 27, but students are generally allowed to go at their own pace.
The core class, cannabis professional, instructs how to “work with cannabis” in various roles within the industry while also discussing the “history and folklore” of the plant and cannabinoid science topics.
Trey Reckling, owner of Academy of Cannabis Science, which is based in Washington, said those who take the class want to gain employment or advance in the cannabis industry. Others desire to learn more about cannabis products.
“We’re trying to set a standard with cannabis education because, currently, it’s hard to find,” Reckling said. “We believe that by working with accredited partners, we can help raise the game and prepare students.”
With recreational marijuana use becoming legal in more states — Nevada voters said yes to recreational cannabis in 2016 — the thinking is that more educational programs may be needed in the future.
Nearly a dozen states have laws allowing adults 21 and over to use marijuana recreationally. More than 30 states allow medical marijuana use.
“We’re a science-based curriculum,” Reckling said. “We also don’t advocate for use. A lot of what we do is about protecting pets and kids and making sure people are storing their product appropriately. We can prepare you for a job, but we also want to have conversations about consuming in a way that’s responsible for your community.”
Also in 2019, the College of Southern Nevada began offering a handful of cannabis courses for entrepreneurs, dispensary employees and others interested in learning about the legal marijuana industry.
The Nevada Dispensary Association also offers courses, though they focus on regulatory compliance and uniformity for the industry, association executive director Riana Durrett said.
“Nevada’s higher education system providing classes relating to cannabis is a step in the right direction because we are missing years of research that should have been done on this complex plant,” Durrett said. “The classes provided by the NDA work well to complement the courses offered by UNLV and CSN.”
David Farris, vice president of sales and marketing at Planet 13, said institutions like UNLV are offering cannabis courses is a sign that attitudes are continuing to evolve.
“Being a Las Vegas-born company, we think that these cannabis courses are a great sign for a more promising and open-minded future,” Farris said. “Teaching these courses at UNLV shows that universities are heading in the right direction. The more educated we are as a community, the more people realize that marijuana is not this dangerous drug we were told about years ago.”
While the UNLV and CSN cannabis courses are not part of a degree-seeking program at either institution, some cannabis-related degree programs have popped up around the country in recent years.
Northern Michigan University, a school with an enrollment of close to 8,000 in Marquette, Mich., rolled out a medicinal plant chemistry program in 2017.
Another Midwest school, Minot State University in North Dakota, introduced a similar degree program in 2018.
Since marijuana use is still illegal according to federal law — though recreational pot is legal now in Michigan — Northern Michigan spokesman Derek Hall said no cannabis plants are grown or housed on the school’s campus.
The school, he said, follows all federal drug laws.
“We’ll have our first graduating class in the program in May,” Hall said. “In the fall of 2017, the program started with 17 students and last fall it had close to 400, which is remarkable growth for any type of program. We get thousands of calls about the program, but many people don’t realize that it’s a chemistry course. It’s a serious program.”
Hall said Northern Michigan is exploring the idea of offering an online certificate in dispensary management.
Reckling said he expects employment opportunities to increase in future years as more states legalize marijuana — there’s also the possibility that the drug becomes legal at the federal level — and navigate how to regulate and support their cannabis industries.
“Opportunities are continuing to develop,” Reckling said. “It’s still a good time for people to be pioneers. What we’re trying to do is just to start at the foundation. As we build this program, we want to lead and follow students. We want to lead them to a strong science-based understanding of the plant.”
As people continue to register for the UNLV courses that start later this month, Reckling said students from as far away as India, South Africa and Hawaii were part of last year’s cohort.
“Right now, one of the things that stands in the way, at least psychologically, is that degree-seeking programs often depend on federal financial aid,” Reckling said. “To jeopardize financial aid would jeopardize everybody. Continuing education is how we’ve chosen to deliver this information, but we actually like that because the bar to entry is very accessible. Students don’t have to apply to the university this way.”
Students do have to be at least 21 to take the courses at UNLV. The cost for each course is $99.
The four cannabis-related courses offered at CSN range in cost from $89 to $159.