cannabis leaf head with graduation cap - concept

Back to School: Cannabis College

When I started telling my friends and family that I was going back to college after 25 years, the initial reaction was, “Good for you!” followed by the inquisitive, “What are you going to study?” I look into their eyes to watch their response. “Cannabis!” is my reply. Yes, cannabis college is a thing.

Some of them get it immediately. They understand that cannabis is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States job market and understand that I want to be part of it. Others have that perplexed look on their faces and say, “How are you going to get a job doing that?”

That’s a good question. How am I going to get a job in cannabis? I earned an associate degree in television production, a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication: Journalism and worked in advertising for several years. Later I acquired my real estate license and opened a brokerage servicing the broker price opinion industry. I know advertising. I know real estate. What the heck did I know about cannabis?

My Cannabis Journey

Obtaining my medical marijuana card in 2017 to address chronic pain, I had been to my local dispensary but that was the only cannabis employment I had encountered at that point. I dusted off my resume and sent it off hoping to obtain a part-time position in a dispensary. I got the interview but was ultimately not selected. That was the only game in town at that time and I was not picked. Now what? There had to be a way to get into the industry, but I hadn’t figured it out yet.

I started looking for cannabis-minded groups on Facebook and cannabis events to see if there truly was a cannabis community in Lee County. There wasn’t much. I started attending Revive’s monthly mixers and began talking to people who were in the cannabis community.

Florida Gulf Coast University

Shortly after Thanksgiving last year, I caught a news story about Florida Gulf Coast University’s new Integrated Studies program that promised to teach cannabis. What? Did I hear that right? I had to watch the story again to see if I saw this correctly. Yes, it was true. FGCU now offers a marijuana related degree. That was the moment my life changed. I had to be in it!

Without any reservation, I enrolled that afternoon and by the skin of my teeth, I was in. I had to jump through a few hoops, but one month later I was sitting in my first college class since 1996.

Cannabis College

I took two classes for the spring semester. The first class was Foundations of Civic Engagement, which was required by FGCU. The second was an honors class called The Drugstore Society. Dr. Martha Rosenthal was my professor as well as the author of the textbook, Drugs: Man, Body and Society

Dr. Rosenthal is a professor of Neuroscience and Physiology and Director of Research and Education of the Cannabis Research, Education and Workforce (CREW) Initiative at FGCU. One hour into this class I knew going back to college was the right decision and I found an amazing professor in front of me. This class was an in-depth introduction to all drugs, not just cannabis. Each chapter addressed a different drug group and reviewed their history, effects to the body, how it is used, dependence on the drug, amongst many other topics.

The Generational Learning Curve

I expected college to be a little different this time but hoped the basics would still apply. The first time I was in college, cell phones were not yet invented. Term papers were typed and handed in on paper. There was no internet. Just ‘ol Encyclopedia Britannica. Now, you are encouraged to do research on the internet and papers were turned in electronically. I had to quickly get up to speed on technology. 

My first major project was to film a public service announcement (PSA). I had no idea where to begin. I have worked on PSAs due to my advertising background, but when I did, I had a film crew and an editor. Now, I had to shoot it and edit it with a cell phone and I just didn’t know how to do it. That was the first time I felt that I might not be able to pull off college.

After introducing ourselves to my fellow classmates on the very first day, I suddenly realized I was a minority. Out of approximately 30 students, I was one of three that were over 25 years old. I was shocked to find their differing opinions on drugs and their experiences. In my excitement to start my new life, I forgot that I am not the normal student and I might stand out. I wondered, “Will I be accepted by my new peers?”

Being Different

I did stand out, but it turned out that was a good thing. One of my fellow students is a journalism major and asked to write a story about me going back to college to study marijuana. He told me the story was for his class but may go beyond that. I didn’t expect to see it again. Then I was walking to class one day and I caught a glimpse of myself in the newspaper box. I was on the cover. Not everyone knew that I was in college to study marijuana, but I guess the cat was out of the bag now. I was now committed to cannabis and ready to announce it to the world.

Cannabis Career Club

During the first month of class, I found out there was a Cannabis Career Club (C3) on campus that was developed by Professor Sam Walch who is the Director of Cannabis Career Initiative at FGCU. How could I pass that up? That sounds like a great idea and I wanted to be part of it. This is a new club for students to meet with industry leaders and people in the cannabis community. We even had a field trip to a grow house (the smell there was amazing!). I would never have had an opportunity to go to a grow house if it weren’t for FGCU. When class is in session, the C3 meets every two weeks. I found that this group has been just as valuable as my degree classes and I really look forward to it.

Cannabis Professional Certificate Program

After my first semester, I had an opportunity to enroll in the Cannabis Professional Certificate Program at FGCU that was developed by Dr. Rosenthal. This program was “an intensive five-day workshop designed to meet the needs of those in the industry and community who want to increase their understanding of cannabis and its effects, the cannabis industry, and the environment in which it operates.”

Since this was the inaugural workshop, I had no idea what to expect. What I found was an intensive class where I leaned about the history, laws, the plant, cultivation and extracting techniques, the business of marijuana, physiology, infusion techniques, pharmacology, and medical uses of cannabis. 

However, this class was different from my degree classes. These people were not there to fulfill a requirement for graduation. They were there to learn how they fit in to this budding industry. People serious about cannabis. These people were investing their hard-earned money and a significant amount of their time just to be in this program. Many were professionals that were either already in the business, wanted to get in the business, or just wanted the education in cannabis for other reasons. I looked around the room knowing that these are people I can call upon in the future. These are my peers!

Into the Workforce

It was now time to bring out my resume again. My goal when I enrolled in college was to get a job in the cannabis industry, one way or another. I still have a lot to learn, but I wondered if I had learned enough to secure an entry level position. It was time to try a job search again.

In less than two weeks after completing the Cannabis Professional Certificate Program, I accepted a position as a Patient Care Specialist at a dispensary in Bonita Springs. It worked! I would not have this position if it wasn’t for the education I pursued. Everyone has a different path. My path was education. I intend to complete the degree program even though it may take a few years. Now I see abundant opportunities all around me. Now I see my future.

I can’t believe how quickly things changed over the last year. When I started considering a career in cannabis, I had no idea it was possible. I never expected six months ago my life would change so drastically. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next six months. This has been a whirlwind so far and I don’t want to get off this ride.

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