New Cannabis and Natural Medicinals major approved

The University farm grows hemp. Truman State University will begin offering a new cannabis and natural medicinals major in the fall. Photo by Emily Collins

Truman State University has developed a new Cannabis and Natural Medicinals major, which they will offer beginning fall 2023, said Tim Walston, dean of science and mathematics. 

The biology department would administer the new major, but it would technically fall into the interdisciplinary category, combining mostly preexisting classes from the sociology, psychology, business, biology, chemistry and agriculture departments, Walston said. 

Waltson said there will be four main tracks, including analytical science, society and philosophy, cultivation, and business and entrepreneurship. 

“We were looking at how we could grow enrollment at Truman and what would be some new majors that we could develop that could attract students to the University,” Walston said.

The degree program could be attractive to students that previously wouldn’t have considered Truman, Walston said. 

Nationwide, Walston said, programs focusing on cannabis and plant medicinal biology or chemistry are growing rapidly. From the summer to now, the number of programs in that area has doubled. This major would put Truman at the forefront of a rapidly growing industry.

The program will look at cannabis and natural medicinals from many different perspectives, including business, advertising, religion, ethics and education, Walston said.

“The number of programs that could contribute to this degree almost spans the entire University,” Walston said. 

Walston said he thought there had been some concern on campus that the major would endorse cannabis as a recreational product. With mental health concerns on campus, those with concerns wanted to ensure the program would not encourage the misuse of cannabis. 

He said he thought it would be better to educate students about cannabis and the drawbacks of its misuse. 

“Take the approach of let’s create educated citizens rather than uninformed citizens because we want to protect them from something,” Walston said. “Let’s create educated citizens that can use their education to make the right decisions.”

Amendment 3, allowing for the recreational use of marijuana in Missouri, did not influence the decision to create the major, Walston said. It does show there is momentum and support for the use of cannabis, however. 

Walston said he also heard concerns, mainly in an Undergraduate Council meeting, about the size of the major and the fact that the word “cannabis” is in the degree title. Walston said most related programs in the country had the word in their titles. With this title, students looking for a degree related to cannabis can easily find Truman’s program. 

Alexis Cook, secretary of Student Government said she supported the major. Student Government passed a resolution during December to support the major, with 11 in support, one abstaining and two opposing. 

Cook said she supported the resolution because the cannabis industry is rapidly growing, especially with the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Missouri. 

“A lot of the conversation revolved around why it’s necessary at Truman, is this a major that we should support … in terms of how much business does the cannabis industry currently have,” Cook said. “The debate didn’t really center around the ethics of it, like whether we should morally have a cannabis and natural medicinals major, and that was surprising for me because I feel like a lot of people have certain preconceptions about cannabis.”

Cook said most of the discussion centered around logistics, such as how many professors the University would have to hire and program costs. 

She hopes the new major will help begin to lessen negative misconceptions of cannabis in society, Cook said. She liked that it was interdisciplinary, which set Truman’s program apart. 

“I think that Truman needs any leverage we can get. We need specific programs that attract students. We need specific facilities or just resources or something that’s going to increase enrollment at Truman,” Cook said. “While I don’t think that this one major is going to have a drastic impact on enrollment rates, I think that it does set us apart from other universities, and it could help attract more students.”

Alexa Kolesiak, voting senator in Student Government, said she voted against the resolution. She said a business major would give students the education they need to work in the cannabis industry. She thought the major was too specific and would limit students who may want to work in a non-cannabis-related field in the future. Most people could be trained in the specifics of the job. 

She also said it could help enrollment, or it could negatively affect people’s perception of Truman and cause them to see it as a more liberal institution. 

The major would create the potential for a partnership between Truman and A.T. Still University, which has a holistic approach to medicine, including the use of natural medicinals. The campus has a natural medicinal garden on their campus, Walston said. 

The number of potential career paths with this major would be huge, Walston said. These include working at a grow facility and cultivating marijuana or growing medicinal plants for the pharmaceutical industry, working in cannabis-related areas of the law or being a lobbyist. 

“There’s lots of opportunities,” Walston said. “We designed the degree to be very broad with multiple tracks to allow students to really pursue a wide range of opportunities.”

“We’re mostly drawing off of courses that were already present at Truman, which is something that was part of my charge to the faculty as we develop new courses,” Walston said. “We didn’t want to develop a new major that we had to hire five new faculty to be able to offer, and so we developed a major that has really four core courses that are new courses but all the rest of it are courses that we already offer here at Truman.”

One faculty member will go on a sabbatical to do training to teach the new courses. The department is also hiring someone for a plant biology position who would help as well, Walston said. 

Walston said a person wouldn’t necessarily have to have a degree to work in those fields, but it would be helpful to enter the management level. 

“[They] maybe don’t need a full degree in it, but from talking to people in the industry, if somebody came with a full degree, it would make them highly employable,” Walston said.

The process of developing the degree started about three years ago after the provost’s office encouraged the dean’s offices to develop new degree programs in response to declining enrollment. Walston wanted to create something that wouldn’t require hiring many new faculty. 

At the time they started developing the program only one school in the country had a similar degree program, Walston said. Now several colleges in Missouri have certificate programs in cannabis offered by a third-party vendor, but none of them have a full undergraduate degree. 

Several faculty members visited two facilities in Missouri, a cannabis growth facility and a cannabis extraction facility, Walston said. Both facilities said there was a high need for the major in Missouri. The facilities reached out to their partners in the state, who sent letters in support of the major to Truman. 

“With the places that we visited and with other people that we’ve been in touch with, we’re developing a network of places that have offered that they’ll provide internships for our students, that they can go to facilities that do grow and cultivate and extract marijuana-based products and learn those techniques in place in the industry,” Walston said.

Last spring, several faculty began meeting to decide if the major was worth pursuing and what it would entail. Throughout the summer, they developed a draft curriculum. After further research and requests for feedback, they began the approval process during the early fall of 2022, Walston said. 

Every department on campus with a course in the major had to approve it, Walston said. Next, the Undergraduate Council and Faculty Senate approved the major, followed by the Board of Governors. Part of the Missouri Department of Higher Education Workforce Development’s approval process is sending the major to all public institutions in the state for public comment. After that, it was approved by the University’s accreditor, the HLC. 

The major would not require the growth of marijuana on campus, as it is federally illegal. The University farm already grows hemp as a part of their research. Hemp is closely related enough that students could study it instead of marijuana.