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Illinois college's newest program this fall: how to grow cannabis

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Tuesday, February 11, 2020  |  Article  |  By Nassim Benchaabane

Education--Higher (37) , Marijuana, Medical, Recreational , Recreational Marijuana
Starting in August, agriculture students at Western Illinois University will be able to enroll in a minor designed to teach them all about growing the cannabis plant: both marijuana and it’s nonpsychoactive relative, hemp.

The university approved the program Feb. 4, shortly after marijuana dispensaries in Illinois reported more than $40 million in sales since the state legalized recreational use Jan. 1.

Anywhere from 20 to 30 students are expected to sign up for the first class in the fall, said Andy Baker, director of WIU’s School of Agriculture.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest from students,” Baker said. “We’re really excited about the future potential of this.”

The school joins a handful of colleges in states with legal marijuana use and industrial hemp production that have created coursework for students interested in the industries.

WIU offered a trial class on cannabis production last spring, Baker said. At least 17 students enrolled in the class.

Because of the interest, the university wanted to move quickly, building a program around established courses to gauge student interest, he said.

“Growing plants is what we do, so we felt pretty confident about moving forward,” Baker said. “But like anything, it’s going to take some time to figure out the needs and interests of our students and hit the mark on that.”

The key class for the minor course will teach students about cannabis anatomy, physiology, breeding, propagation methods, management techniques, post-harvest processing, commercial production, crop rotations and product applications, Baker said.

Students can also take other classes on horticulture, plant biology, plant genetics, pest management, plant breeding and two cultivation methods preferred by the marijuana industry: greenhouse management and hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil in a water solvent.

“You just don’t know where the market is going to go from here,” Baker said. “But there are a lot of different facets here and students will see some opportunities that we’ve never seen before.”