Alibi V.28 No.4 • Jan 24-30, 2019 

Baked Goods

Getting Schooled

American colleges look to cannabis education

Baked Goods logo
Rob M.

When I was a kid, you learned about marijuana from your drug dealer—like how to make a gravity bong or which eye drops were the best at getting rid of red-eye. Back then the idea of learning about the science behind cannabis at a real institute of learning was laughable. In Half Baked, Dave Chappelle's character asks his marijuana dealer, “What? Did you go to weed college?”—a joke that I just realized will no longer make any sense, because cannabis classes have actually been popping up at colleges in America and Canada.

Canada has seen a wild growth in job opportunities since the nation legalized recreational cannabis last October. According to The Washington Post, openings for cannabis-related positions have tripled over the past year, and Canadian schools have responded by initiating courses that teach students about the business and production of marijuana.

Last week the GrowthOp published a list of colleges that are offering courses covering different aspects of the cannabis industry. There are nearly a dozen such programs being offered in spots around Canada—including full graduate degree programs. The US has less to offer, but it's off to a good start.

The University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business offers a course on the marijuana business, while its Sturm College of Law offers those on representing cannabis clients. A class called “Cannabiz: Exploring the Legalized Cannabis Industry” is available at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. Northern Michigan University is offering a four-year “Medicinal Plant Chemistry” undergraduate degree. A minor degree in cannabis studies can be pursued at Stockton University in New Jersey. The University of Vermont gives students the chance to take part in a cannabis science and medicine program. A medical cannabis training program for caregivers and medical professionals called “Medicinal Cannabis and Chronic Pain” can be taken at the University of Washington. The University of California in Los Angeles is home to the Cannabis Research Initiative. UC Davis offers an agricultural science graduate course on the marijuana plant.

And even the University of New Mexico’s Communication and Journalism Department will now be offering cannabis courses. Starting in 2019, students will have the opportunity to attend a course called “Cannabis and Communication.” The course “will examine elements of intercultural communication, coverage of marijuana in the news as well as new media—digital/social—as a political issue, and from a health communication perspective,” said Associate Professor Tamar Ginossar, who will be teaching the course, in a statement released by the school. Students will study the impact marijuana has had on culture and how that plays out in the media.

Combined with the recent legalization of hemp, I'd say this is a very good sign that things are turning around for cannabis in the US. National policy changes start in the universities, and it's starting to look like it's only a matter of time before positive views of marijuana start spilling into the streets.

“Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?”

That was the title of a New Yorker article published earlier this month that threw many of us cannabis advocates into a monumental tizzy.

The piece, written by Malcolm Gladwell, starts off reasonable enough, citing a 2017 report released by the National Academy of Medicine—which found few conclusive answers to health questions surrounding cannabis—and bemoaning the lack of research available on the effects of cannabis, but quickly turns barbed when it begins to reference the forthcoming book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence by Alex Berenson.

Berenson correlates marijuana use with a supposed rise in what he says is a new kind of mental illness that seems similar to schizophrenia. He also connects a rise in cannabis use to a rise in violent crimes, presumably due to psychotic episodes that could allegedly be caused by the drug.

In a Seattle Times article, a number of cannabis scientists criticized Gladwell's research. Senior research scientist at the University of Washington’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute Beatriz Carlini said the violent crime statistics reported by Gladwell were misleading. He cites a 17 percent increase n violent crime in Washington between 2013 and 2017. Carlini pointed out that there was a large dip in the number of violent crimes committed in 2012, meaning that the statistic wasn't rising—it was just returning to where it was before 2013. The Seattle Times article also points to FBI statistics that show that between 2007 and 2017, Washington's violent crime rates were still below the national average.

A New York Times piece by Benedict Carey compares Berenson's book to Reefer Madness, taking aim at its claims that marijuana use can lead to psychosis and schizophrenia. As it points out, while there is evidence that biological mechanisms might lie behind psychotic disorders, determining whether one caused the other is hard to do. Carey also mentions a 2015 study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University that found smoking nicotine cigarettes was a predictor for later development of schizophrenia. How many marijuana users who developed schizophrenia later in life were also cigarette smokers is unclear and unaddressed. However, most experts seem to agree that marijuana, like any psychoactive substance (including nicotine and caffeine) can trigger a psychotic episode in someone who is prone to one.

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