Ole Miss Launches Online Cannabis Master’s Degree Program

The two-year master's degree program will explore marijuana's genomics, formulation, manufacturing, and regulation to prepare students to work in policy, research, and other parts of the industry.
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Published on November 13, 2023
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  • The cannabis-focused degree program will be based in the University of Mississippi's School of Pharmacy.
  • The coursework will focus on cannabis chemistry, biology, and toxicology.
  • The university will create a one-year graduate certificate program in dietary supplements in the fall of 2025 and one for medical cannabis in the fall of 2026.

Students looking to enter the world of cannabis can earn their master's degree in dietary supplements and medical cannabis at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) starting next year.

Ole Miss announced the creation of its new medical cannabis and dietary supplement online master's degree program Nov. 6 for students looking to influence government regulations, research, and lead product innovation in the dietary supplement and medicinal cannabis industries.

Students can apply through rolling admissions to the two-year program starting in the fall of 2024.

"Our goal is to create one of the best programs, if not the best, to serve the industry, and it really builds off our strengths," David Colby, the program's organizer and a professor in the pharmacy school's Department of BioMolecular Sciences, said in an Ole Miss press release.

The degree program is based on findings by the National Center for Natural Products Research and the National Center for Cannabis Research and Education within the university's School of Pharmacy. What differentiates this degree program from other cannabis degree programs is the emphasis on chemistry, biology, and toxicology, according to the university.

"We'll be teaching about plant genomics and formulation and manufacturing, as well as regulation," Colby said. "We want to train people who want to work in those industries, not necessarily a pharmacist who wants to recommend the correct cannabis product."

The university plans to create additional one-year graduate certificate programs for dietary supplements in the fall of 2025 and one for medical cannabis in the fall of 2026.

The university is embracing cannabis studies after Mississippi legalized medical cannabis, the university's press release said.

According to the university, many pharmacy students take internships at dispensaries. Last year, the pharmacy school offered a medical cannabis elective, which exploded in popularity.

"It was limited to 30 students, and there were 50 on the waitlist," Colby said. "It's the only time I've had more people on the waitlist than enrolled and the only time I've literally had students beg me in the halls to get into a class."

The Rise of Cannabis Degrees

Northern Michigan University was the first to create a four-year degree program in plant chemistry in 2017.

Six years later, they're becoming increasingly popular, with Colorado State University, Lake Superior State University, and SUNY Morrisville offering bachelor's degrees, associate degrees, and minors in various cannabis studies.

The latest bachelor's degree in cannabis studies is at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt (Cal Poly Humboldt).

"It's an interdisciplinary, applied social science degree with a strong focus on critical thinking and engagement with a globalizing policy reform landscape," Dominic Corva, program director at Cal Poly Humboldt, previously told BestColleges.

"Everyone else is industry-facing, in terms of certificates and majors, generally in business, uncritical regulation training, and medicinal plant chemistry. Some universities have liberal arts classes like we do, but none have a whole major."

The largest obstacle within cannabis degree programs is the restriction to sell or possess marijuana. In California, it's illegal for students and researchers to "plant-touch" since marijuana is still federally illegal.

Cal Poly Humboldt students and researchers are allowed to study cannabis genetics as long as they don't extract or touch parts believed to house the psychoactive cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Only federal Drug Enforcement Administration research-licensed projects can fully handle cannabis.

Do You Need a Cannabis Degree to Work in the Industry?

The cannabis industry supports over 410,000 full-time jobs as of February 2023, according to the 2023 Vangst Jobs Report.

While not every aspect of the cannabis industry requires a degree, the industry needs pharmacologists, lab testing operators, cultivators, and cultivation managers, Natalie Papillion, founder and executive director of The Equity Organization, previously told BestColleges.

"[Cannabis] course[s] and degree-track programs … are certainly going to spur more interest in the field as a career and will help drive innovation that could create all sorts of additional opportunities," Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, previously told BestColleges.