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March 16, 2022

Rider University to offer courses preparing students for jobs in burgeoning legal marijuana industry

The school's cannabis certificate program includes four course that are held online

Education Marijuana
Rider University Cannabis Studies Justin L. Fowler/USA TODAY NETWORK

Rider University will offer a cannabis studies certificate program online this fall, capitalizing on the growing number of jobs being created by the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey and other states. The photo above shows a mature cannabis flower.

Starting in the fall, Rider University joins the growing list of colleges offering coursework intended to prepare students for careers in the legal marijuana industry. 

The Mercer County school's new cannabis studies certificate program will take place entirely online and provide students with holistic approach to learning about marijuana businesses, as well as teach the skills needed to get jobs in growing market, Rider officials said. 

Rider's announcement about the new courses this week follows New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy assuring residents that the state would begin selling recreational marijuana to adults ages 21 and older "within weeks." The New Jersey Cannabis Commission – which is overseeing the industry – had missed an earlier deadline on Feb. 22 to begin the roll out of the state's program. 

"We want as many people as possible to have access to this program to help build their careers in this expanding industry," said Sarah Trocchio, assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Rider. "As cannabis legalization continues to expand, our students will be able to enter the field with the skills, experience, and connections needed to succeed." 

The four-course program is designed to explore the legal, ethical, biological, business and practical aspects of the cannabis industry. The capstone course will be taught by an experienced professional who will provide students with the information about jobs and internship opportunities. 

The program can be completed as quickly as two semesters, according to the university. There are no undergraduate prerequisites to apply. 

"This certificate will prepare students for roles that go beyond the budtender," said Victor Thompson, chair of Rider's  department of sociology and criminology. "They can work in a number of roles in the industry, from accounting and finance, communications and marketing, sales, management, public policy, law, research and development, and more." 

Before the development of the certificate program, Trocchio taught a special topics course in the spring of 2020 titled "Reefer Madness: From Panic to Profit." 

During the semester-long course, students conducted a survey of New Jersey residents on their opinion about marijuana legalization, social use, and personal use prior to the November 2020 election, which established the industry in the state.

The legal marijuana industry is growing rapidly as more states permit sales of the drug for adult use. A study from Leafly, marijuana news and retail website, reports that there were 321,000 jobs in America's legal marijuana industry as of January 2021. 

That number is set to grow as more states work towards legalization. New Jersey became the 13th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2020, but sales have yet to begin.

Among the biggest issues for the delay is concern that the supply won't meet the initial demand, state officials say. Gov. Murphy told at the end of February that the state wants to ensure that those who need marijuana for medical purposes are able to continue to purchase it as it becomes legally accessible for most adults. 

According to state data, there are only 11 marijuana businesses in New Jersey, operating 23 dispensaries statewide. 

Even in a state like Pennsylvania, where recreational marijuana remains illegal, possession of small amounts have been decriminalized in some of its largest cities, including Philadelphia. Broad support for recreational weed has led to several area colleges establishing their own cannabis business programs. 

Similar to Rider's new certificate program, St. Joseph's University started a six-month cannabis program in 2020 in partnership with Green Flower. Students can choose between several tracks to receive specialized instruction and background depending on which part of the industry their interests. 

People enrolled in St. Joe's courses choose among four programs: health care, law and policy, business, and agriculture. Upon completion, students gain entry to  Green Flower's network of internships and job openings≥ 

Other college-level offerings include two graduate-level programs at University of the Sciences and Jefferson. Both focus on the economic and business impacts of marijuana legalization and provide additional context on the background of the industry, policy related to legalization, as well as other ethical concerns. 

Prospective students can learn more about Rider University's certificate program and meet with faculty  from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 24. Pre-registration is required is required to attend this event.