Special Report: Marijuana Major, An Inside Look At NMU’s Revolutionary New Program

If a college student told you they were studying marijuana, you would probably think they were kidding, but if they’re attending Northern Michigan University in Marquette, they could be serious.

It’s a one of a kind, chemistry intensive program and it’s far from a joke.

In Professor Brandon Canfield’s chemistry lab students are busy analyzing water samples.

Not much different than your typical college chemistry course, but some of these students are preparing for careers in what experts say will be a $700 million industry in Michigan.

“We take an aspirin, we care to know how much aspirin in that tablet, or if I take a vitamin I want to know how much vitamin C is in this tablet. That’s a major focus of this program, doing the same thing but focusing on medicinal plant products,” Canfield, explained.

On the heels of the state issuing medical marijuana licenses for the first time, NMU is now offering a bachelor’s degree in “Medicinal Plant Chemistry.”

It’s the first program of its kind in the country and Canfield says the timing couldn’t be better.

“There’s a saying about the California gold rush, it wasn’t the miners getting rich, it was those providing all the ancillary services. We are looking at this as a modern green rush right now and we think the laboratory sciences related to the green rush to be a very lucrative ancillary service,” Canfield, said.

Canfield along with colleague Dr. Lesley Putman pitched the program after seeing a growing need in the industry.

“It’s not just about people who want to get high and so forth, its a legitimate drug that needs to be studied,” Dr. Putnam, expressed.

Sophomore Josie Mollohan, one of the program’s 15 students, transferred specifically for this curriculum.

“I was so excited i called my mom and she was like holy cow this is exactly what you’ve been trying to do your whole life. I cried I was so excited,” Josie, said.

Dan Gillow is a freshman from Lake City, he admits there’s some confusion when he tells people what he’s studying.

“A lot of my friends are in shock and I think a lot of my family members are still like what is he going for?” Dan, explained.

He credits the program as the reason he pursued higher education.

“Cannabis or Marijuana has always interested me just because of how much potential it has. I’m really lucky, at the time I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, I did not want to go to college unsure,” Dan, added.

In the greenhouse of Northern Michigan University students will learn how to process and grow medical marijuana.

Due to state and federal laws none of the plants are actually cannabis but professors say the way students will grow and process them in the greenhouse, will be very similar to the real thing.

“Growing conditions, optimizing things like light and pH of the soil, are going to be very similar and we can extract the same kind of compounds from non-cannabis plants,” Dr. Putnam, explained.

Using alternative plants doesn’t bother these students.

“It’s so much more than I want to grow the best pot in Michigan, this is really a medicine for so many people. I think definitely by the time I graduate the program I won’t have a hard time finding a job,” Sophomore Miranda Straka, said.

Professors say marijuana manufacturers are already calling.

“We got a lot of interest from these businesses, people are ready,” Canfield, added.

Northern Michigan University has quickly established themselves as a leader in this budding field.

“People that grow marijuana are amateurs and may or may not have any expertise in chemistry or horticulture or anything like that. Now we are bringing the education in, and putting that behind it,” Dr. Putman, explained.

Dr. Mark Paulsen, the head of the Chemistry Department at NMU says the buzz around the program has grown exponentially.

They have already received more than 60 applications for the Fall of 2018 class, from students all around the world.