Committee Blog: Harnessing the Potential of Partnership Between the Cannabis Industry and Academia

Published by NCIA’s Education Committee (EC)

Although cannabis companies are limited in the scope of their business activities awaiting much needed descheduling, it hasn’t stopped the need for educating and preparing the cannabis workforce. For some states cannabis tax dollars are appropriated to education, violence prevention and workforce development and often developed through the lens of social equity. Ohio,
 Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan for example, each invest in cannabis literacy in some way. Cannabis programs such as Oaksterdam University offer learners certificates or degrees for every aspect of the supply chain. Departments shape cannabis curricula with the support of faculty members and subject matter experts from both the private and nonprofit sector. These diverse educators instruct to prepare employees to fill the expected 1.5 million to 1.75 million cannabis jobs by 2025 as estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Partnering with academia

Legacy growers and professionals from more mature markets like California and Colorado find themselves advising academic partners on the type of information most needed by the first generation of cannabis employees. Amanda Reiman, PhD MSW serves as the Chief Knowledge Officer for New Frontier Data and instructor of Implications of Legalization of Cannabis: Policy and Compliance for Excelsior University, she believes legacy knowledge, paired with academic research, will help address the gaps in knowledge created by prohibition. For decades, academic institutions had to stay an arm’s length from cannabis due to its legality. Now, with state laws changing, it has opened up an opportunity not only for academic institutions to offer coursework to support the emerging industry, but to learn from those who have been growing and working with cannabis prior to legalization,” Reiman says. 

Using the state laws as a baseline for cannabis literacy, programs structure certificates and degrees to prepare learners to understand the complexities of the cannabis industry. For cannabis businesses working with the academic sector is a way to keep the pulse on emerging local talent, remain aware of the effectiveness of educational approaches and in some instances, earn an income. Positioning your business in academic networks is best when it’s both mutually beneficial and ethical.

It is important to keep in mind that programs can lead to good-paying jobs for those who’ve suffered from the war on drugs and justice-impacted populations. 

Some programs are of no cost to students, while others compensate students for their participation. Certifications and degrees however don’t ensure employment. Most importantly cannabis businesses providing subject matter expertise must also continue to learn how to have a favorable impact on student populations that require learning how to serve them best. 


When teaching cannabis student populations will vary. It is important to approach the various topics with a sensitivity to the historical injustices and disparities that have existed within the cannabis industry. Some students may have faced disproportionate barriers to entry into the industry due to systemic discrimination and lack of resources. Other students may have different experiences related to health and wellness that when discussing need to be facilitated with great diplomacy, discretion and protection of privacy.

Instructors must provide accurate and unbiased information about cannabis, but sourcing materials may be challenging. It is recommended to identify the most credible and accessible resources for courses.It is also important to acknowledge the potential for exploitation and exploitation of vulnerable communities in the cannabis industry, and to educate students on how to navigate these challenges and protect their rights.

I came into cannabis from teaching urban ecology, urban agriculture and environmental justice concepts and I was quite familiar with learning and teaching novel concepts to diverse audiences. But what I noticed is that it was challenging for my peers. I had helped write our Illinois legislation and also had a professional cannabis network. Industry experts were invaluable for me to be successful in teaching this material and without those trusted peer mentors I doubt I would have been able to create meaningful coursework and identify high quality resources to do so,” shared Mila Marshall, PhD, NCIA Education Committee Chair.

Furthermore, it is crucial to empower social equity students to advocate for themselves and their communities within the cannabis industry. This may involve providing resources and support for networking, business development, and community engagement that are embedded in the course material and syllabi.

Teaching is a skill above and beyond knowing the subject. For subject matter experts to be effective teachers, they should gain knowledge around differential learning styles, student engagement and effective communication,” shared Dr. Reiman. She contends that being a cannabis expert is only part of what is needed to be an effective teacher in the cannabis space. Overall, teaching cannabis with social equity students should be approached with an ethical and inclusive mindset, recognizing the unique challenges and opportunities that these students face in the industry. By promoting transparency, empowerment, and social responsibility, educators can help to foster a more equitable and just cannabis industry for all. Instructors play a key role in unlocking the potential of cannabis learners and there is a learning curve for instructors. Dr. Hemant Kumar has worked many years as a medical cannabis educator and is the Program Director of M.S. in Biotechnology and Office of Online Education and Expanded Programs at Morehouse School of Medicine. He has realized that it’s important to understand the student audiences and their level of knowledge of cannabis. He promotes remaining aware that academia is just as susceptible to the dynamic and fast paced nature of cannabis as an industry. “Scientists are globally publishing cannabis discoveries daily, shared Dr. Hemant. We see there also is a fast growing demand for business and entrepreneurial courses with potential for career pathways; manufacturing, tech start-ups, data analytics, marketing and even healthcare,” Dr.Kumar shared. 

Advisory councils

Programs benefit from the strategic advice of cannabis businesses and social equity advocates. Advisory councils are often informal in nature and independent from state regulation oversight. Council members provide insight on everything from hiring of educational professionals to establishing events and bringing in additional resources to construct greenhouses or implement hands-on internships. Commitments can vary from a single semester to an entire year or more.

Academic Advisory councils provide feedback and direction for long-term goals and strategic planning. With cannabis more in the academic spotlight than ever, it is crucial we start developing programming and educational strategies to highlight cannabis career opportunities.

As cannabis is a continually evolving industry, there are opportunities for subject matter experts to collaborate with the academic community. The cannabis industry intersects with so many different aspects of the workforce that span multiple sectors and academic degrees. Yet there are often missed opportunities for securing talent from junior colleges, trade schools, and research universities.  

Cannabis organizations’ presence at career fairs ideally should be used for visibility and awareness in the cannabis space. This allows future employees and the canna-curious an opportunity to view this industry as a legitimate career path with ample employment opportunities. It closes the communication and educational gaps and offers opportunities for subject matter experts to collaborate with the academic community.

Cannabis companies, like other industries, are part of our nation’s workforce. To normalize our booming industry, it’s important to spread awareness that the medical cannabis space is a thriving industry in need of graduates, interns, and talent from all walks of life, to help fill a myriad of different positions within the cannabis space.

Our industry is unique in that it encompasses so many different fields of study across such a vast range of subject matter.  Educating academia is crucial to paving the way for research and the normalization of this industry. We must empower and support entrepreneurs and their communities by creating an equitable and sustainable cannabis industry. By aligning with academia, we unite with community and industry leaders to achieve cannabis normalization for our communities.

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