Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Northern Michigan University is home to the United States' first college program designed to train undergraduate students for the medical marijuana industry.
NMU has begun to offer students degrees in medicinal plant chemistry, which it says will combine "rigorous coursework in chemistry and biology with research and hands on instrumental analysis built into the curriculum to prepare its graduates for a career in the cannabis industry."
The school said the program started earlier this month.
Associate chemistry Professor Brandon Canfield told WWJ-TV that the time is right for the program because the medical marijuana field is "exploding."
"You see Washington, Colorado, Oregon, California with full legal recreational marijuana. You've got over half the states with medicinal legal, and with all of that has come a huge need for these trained analytical chemists," he said. "In terms of a four-year regular undergraduate degree, there's nothing else like this."
The students in the program won't be allowed to handle actual marijuana plants, however. Instead, they will practice extraction techniques on other plants.
"That process from one plant system to another is not too different," Canfield said. "But we will be focusing on cannabis chemistry in our classes."
Mark Paulsen, head of NMU's chemistry department, said graduates will be able to pursue careers in herbal supplements, fermentation science, food chemistry and environmental analysis.
"The knowledge and skills acquired are applicable to the cannabis industry, but also translate to the broader field of natural products chemistry," he said.