Cannabis college courses gaining popularity in SUNY system

A growing number of colleges ranging from SUNY to private institutions across New York state are offering courses on the business, law and horticulture of cannabis. 

Institutions seem to be taking their pick of cannabis courses a la carte. While courses on law and history have had an easier time being implemented, plant science courses have had to wait. 

Carlyn Buckler is an associate professor of plant science at Cornell and teaches a course called Cannabis: Biology, Society, and Industry. She advised that schools wanting to join in on the cannabis course trend choose quality over quantity when it comes to faculty and classes. 

“If you’re going to be doing this as a college, you either better get somebody in who … knows what the policies are and knows the genetics … production and processing of this because you can’t understand any of this unless you understand all of it,” Buckler said.

Buckler said she was hired at Cornell specifically to teach cannabis studies.

“I remember we put together the masters of professional studies in… Hemp, and I said ok we need an overview course, we need production and processing. Great, let’s do it.”

Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, funding for studies on the subject and plant itself was not always available. Cornell began receiving money from the USDA in 2016 to fund this new endeavor – but the beginning of teaching courses such as Buckler’s wouldn’t start until two years later. 

“It’s the wildest thing I have ever been involved with, and there is no other precedent, we know about alcohol, all kinds of things, fentanyl and codeine, so because we weren’t allowed to do anything for it now we’re  just all scrambling,” Buckler said.

When asked if there should there be a kind of uniformity of courses happening across colleges, Buckler said.

“Oh sure, but it’ll never happen, because these classes bring in a lot of money.”

If colleges skimp on bringing in professionals, things go south. 

“So we hope  in colleges and universities, that they are true to what they say,” Buckler said. “Or they have no plant science background at all, they’ve just read a bunch of books, that’s far more egregious than doing nothing at all.”

In July 2022, SUNY wrote in a press release that Gov. Kathy Hochul announced $5 million in funding would go to SUNY and CUNY community colleges. It would “support the creation or enhancement of short-term credential programs or course offerings” providing pathways to cannabis industry employment. 

Onondaga Community College (OCC) also offers cannabis education courses, but instead of being created in-house, OCC is partnered with the Cleveland School of Cannabis (CSC). The partnership has been in effect since January. According to a press release sent out by OCC at the time of the announcement, students can earn workforce certificates in cannabis cultivation science, cannabis dispensary training and cannabis extractions. 

Currently, SUNY Oswego does not offer such courses but is not devoid entirely of the subject. Ricardo Pozo is a senior at SUNY Oswego majoring in health and wellness with a minor in nutrition. Pozo said a course he is currently taking called Drug Use and Abuse in Society with professor Michael Mullen. It includes cannabis, but not as the main focus.

 “In that course we go over … hallucinogens and stuff too,” Pozo said. “And we just learn about mainly the effects of these things, long term and short term.”

He added that learning more about cannabis specifically could be beneficial, particularly about laws surrounding it and the reasoning behind them. 

“Something in effect to … what it actually does and why it’s beneficial, because I know for some people things like seizures can be reduced,” Pozo said. He agreed that covering plant science areas of the subject could also be important and suggested that Oswego could forge its own path in cannabis education.

“They could probably integrate it into other classes, as a part of some curriculum, maybe,” Pozo said.