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Cannabis Tech

Higher learning: Why student innovation is critical for legal cannabis

College campuses can and should play a major role in preparing the next generation of leaders for the marijuana industry.

Dropbox, Facebook, and Microsoft. These are well-known companies with enough capital to power economies, and yet all were invented by students in a dorm room. Mark Zuckerberg created a $500 billion-dollar company that revolutionized how the world engaged with itself (for better or worse), all while in school.

In the wake of the Parkland shootings, there has been reinvigoration among American youth, who are engaging in dedicated activism to bring real change to our society. In all of history’s most consequential movements and paradigm shifts, young people have contributed their active spirit to spark innovation.

This should be no different in the social revolution of cannabis legalization, especially when college campuses are vital hubs for education and research. When we think about empowering the next generation of cannabis activists and industry leaders, education should be at the front of people’s minds.

There is no question the old maxim “knowledge is power” still has universal relevance. Colleges like UCLA, Northern Michigan University, the University of Vermont, and Harvard have committed at least some of their resources to shine light on the shadowy stigma that lingers around cannabis.

Still, youthful innovation in the cannabis space is far from where it should be, though it certainly exists.

When we talk about the growing need for student innovation in the cannabis movement, we must consider the wide scope of possible career paths that align with subjects taught in higher education. From chemistry to economics to public policy, students are already pursuing degrees from which the cannabis sector can benefit.

ProVerde Labs, a medical marijuana testing facility in Massachusetts, is currently seeking applications for a chemist to join their operation. The position (as it should) requires a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Besides colleges and universities, there are no other institutions that could grant this qualification.

The cannabis industry has an increasing need for credentialed professionals, and university students are best poised to join the workforce. College is the transitional stage from student to professional. For cannabis companies, working alongside such institutions would give them access to recruiting the best young talent in relevant fields, while legitimizing themselves as progressive employers in the process.

Despite legal concerns around cannabis, there are opportunities for students under 21 to work in the industry as well. Writing this very article is something anyone well-versed in the cannabis space could do from anywhere, for that matter.

Brown University’s chapter of SMART, founded by author Nadir Pearson (lower-right).

At Brown University, I founded the Student Marijuana Alliance for Research & Transparency (SMART), a college cannabis community focused on getting students educated about cannabis while providing a bridge for industry professionals to recruit top, young talent.

Now that SMART is expanding to other colleges like Northern Michigan University (home to the first ever weed degree) and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, we have had to find ways to adjust our approach to the differing campus climates of our chapters. Still, the major key to furthering cannabis on college campuses is leading with a harm reduction approach that focuses on responsible cannabis consumption.

Even if colleges are starkly opposed to comprehensive academic programs, they must acknowledge the widespread use especially if they are truly concerned about the well-being of their students. Once colleges implement responsible consumption education, it normalizes discussions surrounding cannabis and ultimately can lead to more extensive educational initiatives.

Universities are mainly hesitant to join the green rush because they are bound by the fear of losing their federal funding. Due to the federal prohibition on cannabis (despite overwhelming public opinion supporting national legalization), the United States is a patchwork of differing laws around the plant.

States like Rhode Island and Pennsylvania only have medical marijuana, while forerunners like California and Colorado…

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