When recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, it brings with it the potential for job creation in areas from breeding and cultivation to processing, marketing and retailing. The state’s community colleges want to prepare residents to do those jobs.
“The law that recently passed the General Assembly and signed by the governor allows up to eight community colleges to establish a careers and cannabis certificate program, and that program allows students to be trained and the marijuana industry including the growing and cultivation of cannabis,” said Matt Berry, chief of staff of the Illinois Community College Board.
“They could they could learn about the specificities of growing various strains of cannabis; people could learn about the industry and business skills and those types of things," Berry said. "They could learn about the regulations that are part of the industry. There could be a number of things involved in a particular program.”
Berry stressed that talk of these programs remains in preliminary stages.
“I've heard anecdotal conversations among several community colleges that they're interested or they're thinking about it looking at it," he said. "Certainly it's going to have to be a local decision made in concert with the local boards of trustees and their business communities, and certainly they're going to have to take into account any legal considerations that may be in place.”
A major legal hurdle is that the federal government still considers marijuana to be an illegal drug and it mandates that college campuses ban illegal drugs.
Programs would have to be approved and licensed by the state Department of Agriculture. But the writing on the wall points to marijuana becoming another regular agricultural product.
“Just like many other community college programs, it provides economic opportunity and job opportunities for the residents of the community college district and can help people move into sustaining sustainable wages,” Berry said.