Northern Michigan University Applies to Use Real Cannabis Plants in Program

NMU launched its medicinal plant chemistry bachelor's degree in 2017.

This story was republished with permission from Crain’s Detroit Business and was written by Dustin Walsh

Northern Michigan University is the first in the state to apply for a marijuana educational research license, which would allow it to bring cannabis plants into the classroom.

The school in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula applied for the license in May and is awaiting approval from the Cannabis Regulatory Agency.

NMU launched its medicinal plant chemistry bachelor’s degree in 2017, teaching students to be chemists in the state’s new-at-the-time medical marijuana industry. Since then, more than 100 students have graduated from the program, and it has launched two-year programs in cannabis and plant-based wellness operations and controlled indoor agriculture.

Northern also operates a non-credit certificate program in cannabis horticulture in partnership with California-based online training platform Green Flower.

The educational license, first available in 2020, will allow the university to use actual marijuana plants in its teaching for the first time. The license allows educators to produce marijuana products, perform research on those plants and products and dispose of them. Registration with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is also required.

NMU will use marijuana plants and products in eight courses, including medicinal plant chemistry, biochemical techniques and gas and liquid chromatography, Derek Hall, chief marketing officer for the college, told Crain’s in an email.

Hall said the timeline for when the plants will enter the classroom is dependent on if and when the CRA approves its license application. The CRA declined to comment on the status of the application.

Research on the health benefits and impacts of marijuana consumption has been conducted at universities for years in limited forms. That research is likely growing after President Joe Biden signed into law the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act in December last year. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, was a co-sponsor of the bill and introduced similar legislation in 2020. The law loosens DEA restrictions on marijuana in an educational setting.

However, not many institutions have embraced research as it relates to educating growers and processors of marijuana. NMU is the only institution that has even applied for the educational research license in the state.

Lake Superior State University, also in the Upper Peninsula, offers a cannabis chemistry degree but has not applied for the research license. The University of Michigan offers a medicinal cannabis course as part of its pharmaceutical sciences degree program and Grand Valley State University offers a four-course undergraduate certificate in cannabis operations and community planning.

It’s likely most universities are reticent to introduce marijuana into the classroom due to it remaining an illegal substance according to the federal government. Public learning institutions receive millions in federal funding and a fear could exist that researching marijuana could jeopardize those dollars, according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences.

NMU was the first university in the nation to offer a degree in cannabis.

Dustin Walsh

Dustin Walsh is a senior reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, covering health care with a focus on industry change and operations, as well as the state's emerging cannabis industry. He is also a regular columnist on all things health, labor, economics, and more.

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