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November 12, 2018 Newsmakers

Gerald Berkowitz | Professor, UConn

Gerald Berkowitz

Some pot plants at the University of Connecticut won't be in danger of confiscation by overzealous resident advisors.

That's because a new course taught by Professor Gerald Berkowitz will teach students about marijuana growing, a nascent industry in Connecticut and around the country as more states legalize cannabis use for medical and/or recreational purposes.

Before he was recruited to UConn, Berkowitz was a professor in the plant and soil department at Rutgers University. For the past few years, he's been researching cannabis and seen increased demand from students who want to learn about the drug and industry.

The UConn class — called “Horticulture of Cannabis: from seed to harvest” — is a lecture course, and it's attracted about 270 students who will begin studies in January, Berkowitz said. He speculates increasing support for full marijuana legalization, and that a “how-to-grow-cannabis” course offered at a major university will contribute to that momentum.

Connecticut has a medical-marijuana program but has not legalized recreational use of the drug.

How do you respond to people who say students shouldn't receive college credits for a class related to marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law?

For too long, there has been a strong partition between cannabis and solid science and scholarship in the U.S. Turning a light on in a dark room can only be a good thing. And, the application of solid science to a topic that impacts the public, and the linking of scholarship to it, can only be beneficial. If not at a university, where else to do this?

Can you tell us about a recent development that bodes well for further medical-marijuana program adoption by other states?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved cannabidiol, or CBD (a cannabis compound that doesn't make people high), from marijuana as medically efficacious. That is significant because the U.S. government has said there is no medical use of cannabis, hence all cannabis, including hemp, and all products (such as CBD) are illegal under federal law. The FDA ruling changes that.

How have your previous students fared in the legal marijuana industry?

Students who have worked on cannabis projects in my lab previously have gotten jobs in industry grow facilities. Current students are working at medical marijuana testing labs on improving the cannabinoid analyses. Companies from Connecticut are expanding to Massachusetts, which legalized recreational pot use, opening labs in California and considering Canada. Job prospects are what it's all about, and it only will expand.

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