North Coast colleges wrestle with cannabis education
When Sonoma State University co-hosted a cannabis symposium on March 11, it may have opened the door to a future area of study and research for the school as well as other Northern California higher-education institutions.
The course, “Medical Cannabis: A Clinical Focus,” was believed to be the first medical cannabis course offered by a major U.S. university. Almost 100 people attended the six-hour course, which was primarily targeted to health professionals who wanted to learn more on the still-understudied plant.
“We had a really good, engaged crowd,” said Robert Eyler, dean of SSU’s School of Extended and International Education.
The event was such a success that Eyler is planning another event in the fall featuring legal and regulatory issues that go with the multi-billion-dollar crop.
But that activity also opens up a thorny question for scholars and administrators: How do you tackle a subject that remains classified by the federal government as a dangerous drug? Cannabis also still generates resistance, whether from prohibitionist policymakers like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recently said medical marijuana “has been hyped, maybe too much,” to federally regulated banks that decline to provide services to burgeoning businesses in the sector.
The 1989 Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act would put at risk crucial federal funding for any campus, especially if officials wanted to have classes on marketing or production of the plant, said Josh Meisel, associate professor of sociology at Humboldt State University in Arcata.
However, Humboldt State has carved out a niche to study the social and economic costs of the drug with its Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, which was formed in 2012. Faculty members have studied issues ranging from the public health impacts on rural communities to determining the pesticide amount on the leaf and its production sites.
The institute has received a state grant in the aftermath of passage of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational usage in the state, that will focus on the potential impact of regulations on manufacturing and production, said Meisel, who is co-director of the institute. The report will help provide guidance to state lawmakers as they write rules going forward.
“That’s a very direct impact on public policy,” he said.
Its work also focuses on the local community, especially as Humboldt County is an epicenter of the state’s estimated $7 billion marijuana industry. For example, Humboldt has well-regarded environmental science programs and has had its faculty members study the impact of how cannabis cultivation has affected water levels along North Coast waterways.
“There are multiple streams of research,” he said.
Colorado State University at Pueblo last year launched its Institute of Cannabis Research with more than $1 million in state and local funding, following approval in 2012 of a proposition that legalized recreational use there. Closer to home, UC San Diego has operated the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research.
Locally, college administrators are keeping an eye on developments. Jerry Miller, Santa Rosa Junior College’s dean of career and technical education and economic development, said he has been approached by some in the marijuana industry who have inquired about having its touted culinary program host a course on cannabis edibles.
Miller and SRJC President Frank Chong have held off on offering such courses given regulatory uncertainty from Washington.