Cannabis Use, Courses Grow on College Campuses

portrait of Anne Dennon
by Anne Dennon

Published on September 20, 2021 · Updated on May 6, 2022

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Cannabis Use, Courses Grow on College Campuses

Cannabis use among U.S. college students hit historic highs in 2020, a new study shows.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse's annual “Monitoring the Future” report found college students' cannabis consumption rose in 2020, continuing a “significant increase” over the past five years.

While cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, the majority of the United State's population has access to some form of legal cannabis. Eighteen states now allow sales of adult-use cannabis while 37 states have legalized its sale for medical purposes. Where it is legalized, rates of use among college students have grown year over year.

When it comes to marijuana, colleges are taking note of more than just changes in student culture. The cannabis industry is a fast-growing sector with jobs to fill. Providing cannabis-related education, like providing career training for any new industry, focuses on marketplace needs, an approach many believe is overdue in higher education.

Cannabis Use Up, Alcohol Use Down in 2020

Cannabis use among college students continued its five-year climb, the Monitoring the Future study found.

Among college students, 44% said they consumed cannabis last year, up from 38% in 2015, according to the study. Habitual cannabis use increased by nearly the same margin over the same five-year period. "Daily or near daily" marijuana use rose from 5% to 8%.

Researchers speculate that the pandemic — which increased anxiety and alone time for many — is one possible cause for this increase. "The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way that young people interact with one another and offers us an opportunity to examine whether drug taking behavior has shifted through these changes," NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. said in a press release.

The Monitoring the Future study has been annually tracking substance use among college students and noncollege adults ages 19-22 since 1980. Results are based on data from two- and four-year college students who are enrolled full-time, compared with same-age high school graduates not enrolled full-time.

This year's Monitoring the Future study also found that alcohol use declined significantly among college students — from 62% in 2019 to 56% last year. The percentage of respondents who reported binge drinking fell from 32% to 24%.

"Historically, college students have reported the highest levels of binge drinking compared to same-aged youth who are not enrolled in college." John Schulenberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and the 202 study's principal investigator said in the press release. "This is the first year where binge drinking was similar between the two groups."

Cannabis Studies Hits Higher Education

The U.S. cannabis industry added an estimated 77,300 jobs in 2020 and supports 321,000 jobs overall, according to a 2021 report by Leafly, a cannabis news and information website. And institutions of higher education across the country are responding to train a workforce to fill those positions.

Oaksterdam University — the original source of cannabis education — offers a large roster of live and self-paced courses for casual learners, as well as certificate programs for those ready to launch a career in cannabis. A handful of traditional U.S. colleges offer certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees that center on cannabis.

Colorado State University and Lake Superior State University in Michigan both offer bachelor's degrees in cannabis chemistry. New Jersey's Stockton University and New York's SUNY Morrisville offer minors in cannabis studies, while Western Illinois University offers a minor in cannabis production.

Coinciding with New York State's legalization of cannabis, Medgar Evers College — a school in the state's City University of New York (CUNY) system — now offers a cannabis minor with 13 new courses.

In Nebraska, Doane University is partnering with Little Priest Tribal College in Winnebago to expand its cannabis studies program. Doane will begin offering seven cannabis courses, online and in-person, as part of its associate of applied science in cannabis studies degree.

Social justice and equity advocates also say that cannabis education has the potential to help underprivileged students. The racial and ethnic groups that have been disproportionately punished by cannabis laws "are the last to benefit from emerging economic opportunities," says Kate Miller, co-founder of cannabis retailer Miss Grass. According to Gia Morón, president of Women Grow, said that cannabis education centering on community needs can help reverse this trend, with positive socioeconomic results.

Feature Image: Dejan Marjanovic / E+ / Getty Images

With adult-use marijuana now legal in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, schools across the region are responding with new cannabis majors, minors, and courses. Cannabis college courses and degrees are cropping up around the country, but are they legit? Read about the latest trends in this budding industry. The NCAA raised the THC levels a college athlete can have in their system and proposed lighter penalties for those who test positive for marijuana. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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