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Southern Illinois University to introduce medical cannabis certificate program for industrial hemp research

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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New, cannabis-focused programs are being created by Southern Illinois University for the purpose of studying industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis.

According to the announcement from school officials, students and farmers who enroll in the programs will have an opportunity to gain certification in the legal weed industry.

School officials say that SIU researchers from the science and agricultural sciences departments will front the interdisciplinary program in cannabis science. The specific areas of study will intertwine plant biology and agriculture with courses in business, engineering, chemistry, and ecology.

Hemp cultivation for SIU’s cannabis-focused courses will begin in Spring

The goal of SIU’s cannabis courses will be to aid ambitious technicians, cultivators, and farmers in extending their business endeavors in the flourishing legal weed market, which is projected to rake $146.4 billion for the U.S. economy by 2025.

Researchers at SIU have been given the go-ahead to cultivate hemp for research purposes by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Planting is projected to begin in spring, with school leaders said to be designating a 5-acre space specifically for their hemp research field.

Before program leaders can commence with the certificate program in medicinal cannabis production, the Illinois Board of Higher Education must first confirm their support. In spite of the pending endorsement, the majority of the courses being offered by SIU are already made available in the university’s catalog.

SIU’s interim dean of agricultural sciences, Karen Midden, revealed that the university has been working hard to prepare for the cannabis programs over a number of years. She attributes the lengthy planning phase to a surge in demand for cannabis science in the southernmost part of  Illinois.

“We’re getting this request and input from stakeholders, who are reaching out to us, telling us they need the science,” she said in a statement. “But we’re also getting it from students — current and potential students — that they would like to have programs to prepare them for work in these areas.”

SIU isn’t the only university to introduce cannabis-focused courses

If SIU does indeed manage to inaugurate its cannabis programs, it will follow in the footsteps of Northern Michigan University. NMU became the first university to launch a four-year degree in cannabis science back in 2017.

Other educational institutions that are following in NMU’s footsteps include the University of Connecticut, which will introduce an undergraduate course in cannabis horticulture science this fall, and Pennsylvania State University, which recently gained approval to study medical cannabis and kickstart a pilot program focused on industrial hemp research.

Jim Garvey is the interim vice chancellor for SIU research and he says that, based on inaugural tests, the soil quality at the university’s hemp field is comparable to the soil that saturates much of Southern Illinois’ farmland. Because of this, he says that researchers can present their findings with growers in the local area.

“We will also be able to learn about how to minimize soil erosion and ensure sustainable harvests,” Garvey said.

Furthermore, the SIU hemp field is expected to be subdivided into separate plots, of which will be used to learn more about hemp cultivation, including what the perfect growing conditions are, what the environmental impact is, as well as how the plant can be integrated into existing crop rotations.

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Southern Illinois University to introduce medical cannabis certificate program for industrial hemp research