Just a few years ago, it was little more than an idea.
Today, now that recreational cannabis has been legalized in New York State. it's a reality: A Cannabis Minor Degree Program is up and running at Medgar Evers— the first degree of its kind in the entire CUNY system.
The program aims to provide students the business skills and acumen necessary to get in on one of the country's fastest-growing new industries.
Last year, legal sales of Cannabis reached $17.5 billion. By 2030, annual sales across the U.S. will reach $100 billion, according to Forbes Magazine. the ground floor in an industry expected to grow rapidly.
And on Saturday, the Medgar Evers community took the opportunity to spread the word about the new Cannabis program at an outdoor showcase on Crown Street in Crown Heights. The event featured live music, DJ sets, food trucks, and panel discussions on topics like women in cannabis, the War on Drugs, urban cultivation and more.
Gia Morón, one of the panel speakers at the showcase and president of Women Grow, a professional network for women in the cannabis industry, was invited by a Medgar Evers chancellor to one of the early conversations about cannabis education at the college. She said she's thrilled to see it up and running.
“It’s about creating partnerships, it’s about understanding what the opportunities are in the industry,” Morón said. “And it’s important for us to (understand cannabis regulations) because they impact our communities and they will ultimately impact our businesses.
"So we want to make sure that we understand what’s available to us, understanding that getting capital in this industry while it’s federally illegal is still a challenge.
The Cannabis Minor Degree program launched fall 2021, offering students 13 newly developed courses in four different tracks — health, business, testing/formulation and growing — to receive their cannabis studies minor.
The seeds for the program were planted almost four years ago when a single student began inquiring amongst the college faculty to consider preparing students for cannabis' legalization and the industry that could open up in the aftermath.
“She knocked on a number of doors for quite awhile, and then we listened,” said Dr. Alicia Reid, chair of the Chemistry and Environmental Sciences Department at Medgar Evers College and now a faculty lead for the cannabis education program.
“We went to our president, President (Rudy) Crew at the time, and two other students, and he sanctioned a task force. He told us, ‘Go big or go home.' So that’s what we did!”
Getting the program off the ground came, as one might expect, with plenty of challenges, said Dr. Reid.
“It required a lot of conversations to get people to change their mindset, and surprisingly more so from faculty and staff, because being in a Black community, you hear cannabis, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s bad, that’s illegal. We cannot be affiliated with that.’”
Dr. Reid said after having the necessary conversations, the next challenge was building an academically sound program from scratch:
“This program was built, and it sounds cliché, but with blood, sweat, and tears,” Dr. Reid said. “A lot of other institutions, they paid consultants to build their programs. We did not do that. We spent the time, with industry, working on what topics they wanted to see covered, what skill sets they needed their prospective employees to have.”
CUNY gave its approval for the cannabis education program’s “Introduction to the World of Cannabis” class just one week before the start of the fall 2021 semester. With little notice, 19 students signed up and showed up for that very first class.
However, funding is a challenge. Reid said the cannabis degree program is pursuing grants to expand and recently secured a research grant.
“We have a beautiful skeleton. But fleshing it out will really take resources,” Dr. Reid said.
The skeleton, though, has already been pretty successful, she said.
The first cohort of students earning a cannabis studies minor is expected to graduate in the summer, but she expects there will be plenty more students looking to participate in the cannabis education program — many of them non-degree students, who have degrees from other institutions but wanted to take the unique opportunity that the program offers.
One student in the Cannabis Minor Degree Program, who gave his name as Banton said, “It’s super phenomenal and I’m excited-- especially that it’s at Medgar Evers and in the neighborhood that a lot of people were discriminated against because of the plant.
"So now, to be able to have a full block party in regards to the plant is almost mind blowing."
Saturday's showcase saw dozens more students signing up for the class.
“We are looking forward to additional cohorts as we get the word out, because we haven’t really been marketing, Dr. Reid said. "So this is the start of the marketing and getting the word out about the gem of a program we have.”
The program, she said, is only just getting started. In five years, she said she wants to see Medgar Evers as “the center of cannabis education in New York City.”