Rowan’s Institute for Cannabis Research, Policy and Workforce Development

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Rowan chemists conducting an experiment for cannabis research. - Photo via Rowan University

Every year, on April 20, meditative peace is brought to the chaotic world for just one day. No matter the runway, college students across the country will be flying high Thursday night. But how much do we actually know about cannabis? Rowan University’s Institute for Cannabis Research, Policy and Workforce Development seeks to not only answer this question but educate students beyond their preconceived notions and prepare them for professional roles in the novel industry.

The institute is currently divided into three centers that specialize in unique fashion on the impact the legalization of cannabis will have in specific concentrations. It currently offers one Certificate of Undergraduate Study (CUGS), a graduate study certificate and an MBA program in Cannabis Commercialization.

The Center for Cannabinoid Science & Therapeutics works with the chemistry and medical side of marijuana. The Center for Cannabis Workforce Development aids the growing need for cannabis professionals through networking and outreach programs. Lastly, the Social-Behavioral, Security and Law Enforcement Cannabis Center develops ideas that may help government or public safety officials when drafting new policies.

“Thinking about [cannabis] really crosses over and transcends all of our disciplines in one way or another,” criminal justice professor Kimberly Houser, Ph.D. said. “I think that Rowan has made really amazing inroads in terms of curriculum development, research policy, and hopefully we’re going to be the ones that people are looking to and saying, ‘Wow look at how interdisciplinary their program is.'”

Due to her background in criminal justice and social behavior, Houser was the perfect fit to spearhead the institution back when it launched in February of 2021. Since the COIVD-19 pandemic has waned, Houser and her colleagues have been able to network with outreach groups and other cannabis professionals in the state.

“I have found that people in the cannabis industry have been really excited and supportive of higher education because they want universities to be involved, they want more legitimacy,” Houser said. “They want more professionalism coming into the industry. Universities getting involved helps reduce stigma.”

With adult-use cannabis legal in 21 states, this is precisely what the cannabis research institute is hoping to fulfill. With that being said, they are also acutely aware of the surrounding nuances and stigmas that still persist.

“Sometimes the point of consumption comes up in class,” Jennifer Maden said, Rohrer College of Business assistant dean for graduate studies. “We try to keep it so that the focus is on becoming educated and responsible use and what’s appropriate or not.”

Maden explained how with her focus being on cannabis commercialization, the curriculum remains on understanding the facts and stigma around cannabis from a business perspective.

“It talks about the plant, and about how it was used medicinally hundreds and thousands of years ago, it also gets into some of the earlier policies here in the US when things did shift, and it became illegal, and a lot of the really complicated socio-economic and race issues that are involved,” Maden said.

Despite the tunnel vision direction, it is reasonable for objectors to assume the entire institution is an unworthy use of resources. A position Maden understands yet refutes.

“There are a lot of good medical benefits for people that require a lot of additional research,” Maden said. “The only way we can research it is if we start to institutionalize and normalize it and make it something that people are comfortable with having more research. We’re working with real evidence-based data, not people’s feelings and reactions,” Maden stated.

Not only does the institution for cannabis research facilitate groundbreaking discoveries, but they also act as a reference for any student who has cannabis questions or ideas. By creating this community, the graduate program is drawing in interest from outside of Rowan, something Maden said is a good sign moving forward.

“It’ll be a new audience that we’ll be bringing in primarily for this program,” stated Maden.

This does not mean Rowan students cannot partner with the institute to help grow their own entrepreneurship endeavors. Take junior exercise science major Ryan Ems, who started planting cannabis earlier this year and is looking to seek approval for Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) as a club at Rowan.

“The main goal of SSDP at Rowan will be to combat the opioid crisis in South Jersey along with taking a hard look into the NCAA policies governing our Rowan Athletes,” Ems explained.

The SSDP works close with Student Marijuana Alliance for Research and Transparency (SMART), which helps students seek truth in the oversaturated culture surrounding cannabis.

“The goal of SMART will be to promote educational and professional experiences for Rowan students to explore their passion for cannabis,” Ems said.

The young entrepreneur finds inspiration in helping others understand that it is perfectly okay to follow their passions, including cannabis.

“I want to create a direct pipeline for Rowan students to get into the industry and make a splash,” Ems said. “Life is short and I want to help people find the courage to explore what they are truly passionate about.”

Ems has the full support of the research institute.

“Between those two organizations, a lot of the focus is on health, wellness, medicine and research to make sure ‘What are our policies?’ and make sure that things are being done in a safe, responsible manner,” Maden said.

Theoretically, Ems clubs would be the link between undergraduate students and the three centers, providing consistent communication opportunities between members and cannabis professionals.

No matter one’s personal beliefs surrounding marijuana, Rowan’s Institute for Cannabis Research, Policy, and Workforce Development is positively impacting the industry. In the third quarter of 2022 alone (July-September), the state made a revenue of $7.7 million in taxes on cannabis purchases according to the NJ State Treasury. This was a 67% increase over the previous quarter, thus identifying the need for cannabis researchers, professionals and experts in the rapidly growing industry.

Ems concluded, “There are so many different disciplines that have positive interactions with the plant that would benefit from this community being established.”

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