CASTLETON — Castleton University is jumping on the hemp train — along with over a dozen other colleges and universities — and offering a cannabis studies certification program for students starting this summer and launching officially in the fall.
At last Thursday’s faculty assembly, business administration professor Paul Cohen, philosophy professors Brendan Lalor and Joe Markowski, and sociology and anthropology major Phil Lamy — collectively known as the Cannabis Studies Group — proposed a certificate program and received majority support.
“There’s a whole range of uses and places where cannabis culture fits,” Lalor said. “We’d like to facilitate a discussion that’s less tainted by propaganda from decades past and more driven by evidence that has come out since.”
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a 20-year advocate for changing Vermont’s cannabis laws, said there is a realm of possibilities that a new industry like cannabis could give the state, from hemp fibers and paper products to health and wellness supplements and even drawing high amounts of phosphorous out of the soils.
“I think it’s a great step forward and a really wise move on the part of Castleton University,” Zuckerman said. “This plant can be studied from a biology perspective, as a natural resource, from a medicinal perspective, and economic development.”
The 12-credit program would consist of three three-credit courses and a three-credit internship with a local institution on the philosophy, business or sociology of cannabis culture, cultivation and production.
The Cannabis, Culture and Consciousness sociology program will continue to be taught by Lalor and Lamy, and would explore the history and anthropology of cannabis culture and cultivation dating back to 12,000 years ago, when the plant was recorded as being used by civilizations in Asia.
The Canna-Business research-based course will be taught by Jody Condon, local accountant and co-owner of Luce Farm, which produces a range of CBD products in Stockbridge, including caramels, honey, elderberry syrups and arnica rubs for joint and muscle soreness.
“On the economy side, there are going to be so many jobs that are created in this industry,” Condon said. “It’s only right that we inform students about this industry ... (We’ll be) looking at what we need: we need accountants, we need lawyers, we need marketers.”
Cannabis, Cultivation and Care is a philosophy course taught by Joe Markowski. It will cover the agricultural and ethical cultivation of the plant itself, the issues around the processing and sale of different products and how the cannabis industry impacts climate change and environmental degradation.
The group began gathering resources and information about the legendary leaf four years ago, before cannabis was legalized.
“We noticed a lot of questionable material in the media,” Lamy said. “People, we call them the ‘prohibitionists’... in their attempt to prevent (legalization) from happening, they were using a lot of bad information, selective information, outright wrong information ... we felt we needed to get involved in the issue, challenging and correcting some of this misinformation.”
Lamy said doctors were spreading misinformation and propaganda harbored in the U.S. since the 1930s, when large companies with competing products, such as opiates, textiles and paper made from trees, invested in the demonization of the hemp plant to push their products.
“There was a lot of modern reefer madness in the paper, so we started challenging the articles out there,” Lamy said.
Two years ago, Lamy and Lalor together taught Cannabis, Culture and Consciousness for the first time and were able to convince the administration that teaching students about cannabis and cannabis culture was a smart and productive idea.
“It initially started off with 15 students,” Lamy said.
But more and more students requested to be a part of the group, and soon Lamy said they found themselves fielding calls from the dean asking to expand the program, and balloon the class size to 25, even though there were consistently 27 and 28 students in every class with still others sneaking in just to listen.
“It just showed us there was tremendous influence here at Castleton,” Lamy said. “So, we settled on a certificate program, trying to provide a new type of degree or document demonstrating the student has developed skills and knowledge in a particular field.”
The certificate is also a program for non-matriculated students, or “working Vermonters,” people interested in attending Castleton for a degree or to be a part of the industry and want to take part in the training, Lamy said.
Lamy said cannabis product companies have already reached out to the university with an interest in hiring or taking on graduates of the certificate program for employment opportunities.
The professors expressed hope that cannabis would be accepted as just another part of life, and a blossoming economy bursting with potential.
Markowski related anti-legalization to the movements against marriage for homosexual couples, an opposition that faded over time.
“The negative imaging will dissolve as more civic dialogue is realized,” Markowski said. “That’s part of what the program is looking to do.”
Senior Bailey Plant, a health science major and employee at The Emporium in Rutland, said he was interested in diving into medical and recreational cannabis, including cannabis-based opiate addiction recovery.
“I would love to start my own place,” Plant said. “It’s a way to help our city, both the schools and the roads — there’s no rec center still ... it’s not going to change you. It’s going to enhance you.”
Not everyone at Castleton was completely on board with the certificate program — some faculty said if cannabis was going to be analyzed, other schedule-one drugs should be, too.
“They thought that we should have in our curriculum right now, some type of course about drug prevention or drug abuse,” Lamy said. “That’s where they’re coming from.”