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Doing cannabis at college takes on a whole new meaning

The logo of Niagara College. Photo: Nigara College Website
The logo of Niagara College. Photo: Nigara College Website

Doing cannabis at college is something that features in the lives of many. Now, it has taken on a whole new meaning. Canada’s Niagara College in Ontario, now in its 50th year, has launched a Commercial Cannabis Production Graduate Certificate Program. It lasts one year and concludes with practical experience at a commercial cannabis producer.

Why it’s needed

In just over a month, Canada will legalise cannabis for recreational purposes. It will require skilled employees to assume roles in the fast-paced, evolving cannabis industry. Doing cannabis at college could result in jobs in administration and finance, cultivation, harvesting and packaging, operations management, laboratory support, quality control or research and development.

The first of its kind

Industry experts assisted with the development of the qualification. The college has forged links with a number of producers; financial support, internships and work placement opportunities and scholarships can be had. It’s surely the first such course in the world, although there have previously been people doing cannabis at college. Deron Caplan obtained a PhD in pot production from Ontario’s University of Guelph. He boasts of having been approached by several potential employers. His supervisor, Professor Youbin Zheng, mentioned that he “frequently” receives the enquiry “Youbin, do you have any graduate students? We want them.” The job situation is substantially better than for art.

First wine, now cannabis

Classes will be held at Niagara College’s campus at Niagara-on-the-Lake, at the centre of Niagara’s wine country. The college has already experienced success as a premier educator in wine production. Niagara College owns a vineyard that occupies 38 acres. It’s foreseen that the college will be equally successful providing industry-leading, hands-on education for the cannabis industry. The hands-on work will take place in the high security “cannabunker”, a series of interconnected shipping containers.

What you need

If you wish to end up doing cannabis at college, you must have either a diploma or degree in agricultural science, biology, greenhouse technology, horticulture or similar. Over 300 people applied from all over the country, with 24 granted acceptance. They fall between the ages of 21 and 54, and some have left full-time jobs to participate.

The local MP speaks

The local MP, Chris Bittle of the Liberal Party, appeared at a welcoming ceremony. He spoke of how legalising cannabis would lead to “good paying jobs” in an industry with proceeds invested in Canada instead of organised crime. He remarked that there are already five licensed cannabis production facilities in the Niagara region alone. Some already plan to expand. These cover almost two million square feet. There are 59 licensed producers in the country as a whole. Hence, there is an “exceptional” need for qualified professionals.

All about the course

The course will cover climate, interpretation of data for crop health and quality control, lighting, pest control and plant selection and nutrition as well as the complex and very strict regulations for licensed producers of cannabis. Cannabis production requires special skills, with pruning practices for one being particular to the plant. It is at least massively easier than germinating begonia seeds.

International attention

This venture has received international attention, with reporters and TV cameras present on the first day of teaching. The college also gained fame with its commercial bee-keeping programme.