Courtesy of Cornell University

Farmers inspect a Cornell hemp research field during a field day event last August. Cornell hemp studies span a range of topics, from diseases to entomology.

April 19, 2019

Course to Launch in Fall Dives Into Weeds of Cannabis Science, Culture

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Twice as many Americans now support cannabis legalization as do oppose it, most recent polls say, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently threw his support behind legalizing the “adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.”

As support for marijuana verges on the mainstream, Cornell has decided to bring the once taboo plant into the classroom.

Plant Science 4190: Cannabis: Biology, Society and Industry will be offered in Fall 2019 by Prof. Carlyn S. Buckler, plant science. The course will explore the history, culture, breeding, horticulture, legal issues and challenges associated with cannabis, according to a syllabus obtained by The Sun. It will require at least one college-level biology course as a prerequisite.

Buckler said the purpose of this class will be to facilitate entrepreneurship in different areas of the cannabis industry — including breeding, pharmaceutical development or legal compliance — in a bid to appeal to students who have academic backgrounds in subjects beyond botany.

The format will be a combination of guest speakers, lectures and group projects, according to the syllabus. Buckler said she plans to invite speakers with expertise on the legal, social and horticultural aspects of cannabis, such as Prof. Lawrence Smart, plant breeding and genetics, who heads Cornell’s hemp research.

“[Lawrence] Smart will also be breeding some [hemp] and we will have them in class. So [students] will get to see different stages of hemp,” Buckler said.

Group projects will be flexible and vary between different groups based on career goals in the cannabis industry or academic background. Buckler said she would be open to different topics for the paper.

The course will be mostly focused on hemp, a strain of cannabis sativa species that is primarily used for fiber in clothing, industrial purposes and CBD oils for cosmetics, according to Buckler.

Unlike its more controversial cousin marijuana, another type of cannabis, hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient responsible for most of marijuana’s euphoric effects.

Research of hemp was legalized in 2014. Since 2016, Cornell has been developing a hemp initiative, whose goal is to study the varieties of hemp production for growing conditions in New York such as seed issues, disease and pests.

Legal challenges involving medical and recreational marijuana will also be covered in class. While New York State currently permits medicinal marijuana, recreational usage is still unable to be pushed through, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) recently acknowledged.

However, even in states that have greenlit recreational consumption, federal restrictions — marijuana, for instance, is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA — often have hampered the ability of Universities to conduct comprehensive research.

“Federally it’s still illegal, which means you can get … no federal government funding for research,” said Buckler.

Restrictions on recreational marijuana could also be impeding studies that might better help us understand the effects of marijuana use, according to Buckler.

“The problem is that we don’t know. We need more research to know the long term implications of using marijuana. We need more funding. We need it to be legal,” said Buckler.

Further legalization of marijuana could drastically increase the size of the industry. According to Forbes data, sales from medical and recreational marijuana exceeded $10 billion in 2018 and is expected to break $20 billion by 2023.

Buckler believed the class will also help students to explore every possibility of the cannabis industry while understanding the needs of the industry, the farmers and the public.

“I would like everyone to understand the breadth and depth of the cannabis industry and what the potentials are. But also [they should] understand what each faction [of the industry] needs. [The class] will give everyone a really broad view of what the opportunities are.”