Cannabis Courses and Programs Wafting Across Canadian University and College Campuses

Article by Joseph Hall, Toronto Star

Cannabis courses and programs wafting across Canadian university and college campuses Joseph Hall By Joseph HallFeature Writer

Call it higher education if you must.

But since cannabis was legalized in Canada last year, courses dedicated to the plant have taken root on college and university campuses across the country.

According to the Cannabis Council of Canada, at least 12 post-secondary schools have joined the budding educational boom, having launched programs — or announced plans to do so — covering everything from production research and training to marijuana law and business.

“In this sector it was going from amateur production to professional production … and that takes expertise,” says Rene Van Acker, dean of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College.

“It’s like the difference between growing some tomatoes in your backyard and being a tomato supplier for Loblaws,” says Van Acker, whose school is in the process of opening the country’s largest cannabis program.

Another of the early entrants into the new cannabis league was Loyalist College, which sits on the western edge of Belleville off the Bay of Quinte.

“There’s an incredible gap in the sector as it relates to knowledge in terms of the science of cannabis, and applying that knowledge to product development,” says Kari Kramp, head of Loyalist’s Cannabis Applied Science Program.

“We were able to fill that gap,” says Kramp, whose post-graduate course began last October. “It’s an innovative, dynamic hands-on program.”

The program — which grows and uses live marijuana plants — will prepare students to enter the industry with skills in areas such as the development of new pot products and quality and safety assurance, she says.

Students will also study the intricate regulatory frameworks that govern cannabis production and sales at the federal and provincial levels.

“It’s of paramount importance to educate people who are going to be working in this industry on what’s happening, what has changed and how we work within those (legal) parameters,” Kramp say.

As well, there are hands-on courses in cannabis biology and chemistry, and in the science and technology of extracting desired “cannabinoid” components like THC and CBD from the plant, she says.

“You need to know what’s in your product and to ensure that it’s consistent,” Kramp says. “The different cannabinoids will have different effects on the products that are being developed and consumed. And so it’s important to know that, (and) how you measure that and how those levels of actives are determined.”

As in many of the cannabis programs being developed across the country, Loyalist students must also participate in placements — in this case unpaid — with licensed producers and other companies within the industry to complete their course.

The school’s 20 initial cannabis students toiled for four 35-hour weeks for pot companies in April and May, in what are known as work-integrated learning stints,

“And wow, the response from the employers was fantastic,” says Kramp, whose course lasts eight months. “Sixteen of the students went through and did the work-integrated learning (and) 11 of them have been hired” in the industry, she says, adding the school will accept 24 students to the course in the fall.

One of the students who completed the course was Amanda Felske, who just accepted a position as senior chemist at a start-up cannabis beverage company in Belleville known as Truss.

“The course was 100 per cent worth it,” says Felske, 35, whose new employer is jointly owned by beer giant Molson Coors Brewing Co. and the Quebec cannabis producer Hexo Corp.

“It touched on so many points of the real job knowledge that you need to succeed in this industry.”

Felske, who saw a ground-floor entrance into the a newly legal market as an exciting challenge, represents a symbiosis between academia and the cannabis industry that will prove critical, especially in the early years, Van Acker says.

And as cannabis production and product development emerge from their black market shadows — where homespun techniques ruled — the knowledge and skills developed in post-secondary labs and classrooms will be critical to a healthy and growing industry, says Jordan Sinclair, vice-president of communication with the licensed producer Canopy Growth Corp.

“In a lot of industries there is that ecosystem between government and industry and academia, and it’s required to thrive,” Sinclair says.

“But this is such a new industry that we’re required to build capacity in a lot of ways, and they (academic research and training) are both capacity-building, they both allow the industry to evolve and to mature,” he says.

The link with academia, however, has the ancillary benefit of helping to normalize an industry still stigmatized by its criminal past, Sinclair says

“We’ve gone through a number of years where we partnered with organizations because we understand their reputation was going to allow us to become more normal in mainstream society,” he says. “And it’s hard to think of stakeholder groups that have much higher public perceptions than universities, post-secondary education and the academy.”

Read the full article here.

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