"The growing [aspect] is already out there," says Michaela Tomova, dean of faculty at the college's North Campus, which is developing the program. "What's missing is the scientific approach to educate the workforce."
That means students will be taught the academic side of marijuana: the physiology of the plant, its natural properties, its medical usage, and how it relates to other medically important plants. They'll learn about cultivation and extraction, but mostly from a "theoretical standpoint," says Mark Meade, chair of the college's Biology, Health, and Wellness Department.
The cannabis industry has been exploding in Florida since voters legalized its medical use in November 2016. In announcing their plans to offer courses on marijuana, Miami Dade College administrators pointed to a Leafly report that shows the state's cannabis employment jumped 703 percent in 2018, with more than 9,000 full-time jobs added.
They envision prepping students for laboratory jobs such as extraction or quality control, and they're working with industry insiders to find out which skills are needed.
"Anything medical associated with the plant is what we're looking at right now," Meade says.
So far, the college has added three new courses: Biology of Cannabis, Chemistry of Cannabis, and Florida Cannabis Policy and Regulation. A certificate program, Cannabis Industry Science Specialist, is in the works, and will likely be developed over the next academic year. It could be the first of its kind in the Florida College System.
Eventually, Miami Dade College's cannabis offerings could expand further, potentially into a baccalaureate degree, though administrators are starting "slowly and cautiously," Tomova says.
"We are in an exploratory phase because we want to see how the industry is going to develop, and we are developing parallel to it," Tomova adds. "We cannot launch a degree at this point until we know where the industry is headed."
Still, they have lofty ambitions. "Our main goal, the way we look at it, is we simply want to be the epicenter for cannabis education," Efrain Venezuela, the associate dean of faculty, says, "not only in Florida but nationwide."