By Shawn Chitnis

PUEBLO, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado State University-Pueblo plans to offer a degree focused on cannabis in the fall, acknowledging the growing influence of the plant not only in the state but around the world. University leaders say the creation of the Cannabis Biology Chemistry major reflects the need for people educated on the impact of cannabis as industries develop from the plant.

(credit: CBS)

“The chance to be one of the first degrees like it in the country, I don’t think comes along more than once in a lifetime at best,” said Dr. David Lehmpuhl, the dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at CSU-Pueblo.

The announcement of the degree made headlines across the country even before any student could register for the major at CSU-Pueblo. Lehmpuhl appreciates the attention the school is already getting but also wants to make sure the public and future students understand what the degree requires.

“A lot of the attention that Pueblo tends to get, isn’t always good,” he said. “It will put Pueblo on the map for a good, higher education map, that isn’t always the case.”

Lehmpuhl explained to CBS4 on Tuesday that the degree will be heavy on biology and chemistry classes, essentially a double major in those two subjects. It will be very different from the minor already on campus, which focuses on the social sciences around cannabis.

“Somebody who completes the degree could work as a chemist in a chemistry lab, a biologist in a biology lab,” he said. “We think it’s a very viable degree for a scientist.”

In fact, the degree is designed to allow students to pursue careers outside of cannabis. Lehmpuhl adds that even if someone uses the degree in a way related to cannabis, they may never need to work with marijuana. Cannabis includes hemp, which is legal and a growing industry in Colorado and around the nation. The department spent time deciding what name would be best for the major, acknowledging its focus on science but making clear it will be related to the plant.

“It’s not a degree program to learn how to grow cannabis or enhance THC,” he said. “It’s neither pro-cannabis or anti-cannabis, it’s the science of cannabis.”

(credit: CBS)

While marijuana is legal in Colorado, other states, and different nations, CSU-Pueblo plans to follow all federal regulations related to marijuana. So students will only use cannabis in the form that does not violate any laws. The goal of the degree program is to study the plant without endorsing or opposing cannabis use. The first two years would be similar to other science degrees, classes on the plant would come in a student’s junior and senior years.

“From a scientist’s point of view, whether you are pro-cannabis or anti-cannabis, you could major in this degree and you will learn about the science of cannabis,” he said. “Scientific nature in itself is not biased, it’s not supposed to be biased.”

The process to create this major for students stared a year ago. One reason CSU-Pueblo is leading the way on this degree is the Institute of Cannabis Research, a state funded entity based on the campus. Researchers are already looking at the impact of cannabis on memory. Staff work full time studying the plant.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s very important that we educate people on cannabis, cannabis use,” said Amy Uhernik, a research scientist at the ICR.

Uhernik studied biology and chemistry at CSU-Pueblo never intending to work with cannabis. She acknowledges she could have used this degree to prepare for her current job. She also anticipates working with future students in the major and its graduates may end up in the lab like her.

“I think the university is taking a step forward in the right direction,” she said. “It would train scientists on the effects of cannabis.”

Her research will work to find solid evidence on the effects of cannabis on the body, a reason she says the major and scientists interested in the field are necessary. Lehmpuhl adds that the degree should not be viewed as controversial, it is part of the responsibility that comes with legalizing cannabis. He says the program depends on Colorado and other states keeping their current direction on the plant. Comparing it to prohibition, he does not anticipate the drug will become illegal again like it once was in the U.S.

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to put it back so I do think it’s here to stay,” he said.

The final approval process for the degree involves both campus and state requirements. But information on the major should become available online in about a month. The school hopes to have around 60 students in the next few years, adding faculty if the program grows as expected. Some students have already suggested switching majors on campus.

“It’s in the community, it’s in our society, so I think we have as an institution of higher education, we have a responsibility to make sure that what we’re producing as a society is safe,” Lehmpuhl said.

Shawn Chitnis

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