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Digging into SUNY Morrisville’s cannabis industry minor

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NY Cannabis Insider is working with students at Syracuse University on a series of stories about cannabis education programs throughout the state.

SUNY Morrisville has seen a stark increase in students interested in their cannabis industry minor since the program’s inception in 2019.

The hands-on structure of the horticulture department was well positioned to take on the new addition, said Kelly Hennigan, a professor of horticulture at SUNY Morrisville and the architect of the cannabis industry minor – which allows students to not only learn about cannabis but also grow, harvest and extract it.

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There are no additional fees for students to minor in the program. Morrisville sees the controversial herb as just an additional plant that was added to the curriculum. Anything they learn in horticulture is applicable to the whole specialty crops industry, Hennigan said.

The program strictly grows hemp cultivars and doesn’t foresee working with THC in the future, Hennigan said.

She said Morrisville added the minor because they wanted to be on the forefront of cannabis industry education.

“All we had to do was remove the tomato plants and put in cannabis plants,” Hennigan said. “Switching to cannabis was easy for us because we grow things.”

Though students are in charge of cultivating the plants in a wide variety of products, such as flour, grain and fiber, the program focuses on teaching the skills needed to succeed in the industry. Students do not consume any of the products and the plants are kept locked up and composted at the end.

The cannabis minor started out as special projects — all derived and run from student interest.

The program has a project budget of $2.85 million, which is being paid in part from $1 million in grants from Empire State Development, Hennigan said. The money has been used to fund and build a controlled environment agriculture, a new commercially licensed kitchen facility and a testing lab.

Related: Cannabis education at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn

Hennigan invites people from the cannabis industry to talk to her classes and explain the inner works of the business. She describes the importance of staying up to date on updates from the Office of Cannabis Management.

“I’ve tried to make connections with people that are right in the thick of things that can explain to my class the latest happenings,” Hennigan said.

Students participating in the minor have found an array of internships in the cannabis field, such as indoor grows, dispensaries and labs. Students can pair the minor with any major, such as business, psychology or culinary arts.

There is also a specialty crops and cannabis production certificate — which started earlier this spring — where participants gain the skills needed for job placement in the industry. Students also learn about different pathways into applicable associate and bachelor’s degree programs at SUNY Morrisville.

According to the university’s website, the certificate can be transferable into more advanced degrees at the college, such as a two-year horticulture degree and a four-year horticulture business management degree.

With an already successful start to the program, Hennigan sees it going from “seed to finish.”

“It’s what the students want to do,” she said. “They ask for this stuff and we — to the best of our ability — try to deliver.”


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