MACOMB — Western Illinois University is launching a cannabis production minor for fall 2020.
The offering, through WIU’s school of agriculture, will be offered only at WIU’s home campus in Macomb. WIU operates a Quad-Cities campus in Moline, but WIU was the only Quad-Cities college or university to express interest in pursuing having a cannabis course offering ahead of adult-use cannabis sales that began Jan. 1.
Recreational marijuana sales, including those that happened at Milan-based Nature’s Treatment of Illinois, totaled nearly $40 million in the first month that included about 972,000 items being sold, according to state figures.
WIU’s faculty senate approved the minor at its meeting earlier this month, which will be 18 to 19 credit hours with additional coursework offered through Western's department of biological sciences.
Shelby Henning, a horticulture professor, will lead a biology/production course while other courses in the minor, which already exist in WIU’s agriculture and biological sciences offerings, such as genetics in biology and agriculture and greenhouse and nursery management, among other classes.
Andy Baker, director of WIU’s school of agriculture, said Monday the new minor will likely fall under an ag science degree from the university. Baker said faculty are still working on partnerships with hemp producers and those in the recreational and medical marijuana businesses.
“There’s certainly enough hemp producers in the state that (students) could get experience working in the field,” Baker said. “There’s going to be some opportunities and we’re still developing those relationships.”
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WIU also has an advantage in that professor Win Phippen has been growing and studying hemp for research, thanks to the U.S. Farm Bill of 2014. He also leads the university’s alternative crops program.
“This new course and minor are perfect complements to our comprehensive degree program,” Baker said in a news release.
“We’re excited to be a part of this flourishing industry and providing in-demand, and new, academic opportunities for our students,” said WIU Interim President Martin Abraham in a news release.
Discussion about launching a minor occurred last spring and faculty resources are being shared to ensure the core class for the minor is offered during fall and spring semesters starting in the 2020-2021 academic calendar at the Macomb campus.
“As we’re moving forward on this, we’re trying to be cautious enough to have the foresight on student interest and we’re going to try to schedule classes,” Baker said.
At this point, Baker is anticipating class sizes of 20 to 30 students.
“We’re really excited about the potential for the new minor and hopefully attracting some new students to WIU, but also understanding that in the Illinois Department of Agriculture there’s another new bureau for cannabis regulation. So there’s going to be new employment opportunities in the state,” he said.
“You got to be nimble at how you look at your curriculum and employment opportunities.”
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