University of Connecticut to offer class on the science of growing cannabis

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Peter Apicella, a grad student at UConn, is working with different strands of industrial hemp plants (low amounts of THC) known as Cannabis Sativa to research how different pathogens affect the plants. The goal, he says, is to publish peer review articles for medicinal growers to farm more efficiently. (Nicholas Hampton/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut is offering a class for the Spring 2019 semester called “Horticulture of Cannabis: From Seed to Harvest,” which will focus on the science of growing the plant for medical and industrial purposes, according to UConn Today.

Gerald Berkowitz, the plant science professor, said the development of the course came from the need for knowledge and application of cannabis treatments, which have gained popularity in recent years due to the legalisation of medical marijuana in 30 states across the country.

The Farm Bill of 2013 grants Berkowitz the right to conduct the class. The bill authorizes higher education institutions to conduct research and regulation on industrial hemp marijuana, according to Vote Hemp.

Berkowitz said the inspiration for the class came from overseeing and working with 12 undergraduate students last spring semester, all of whom were individually studying aspects of cannabis.

“Just last summer I took eight undergraduate students to a national conference in Montreal to report their results,” Berkowitz said. “To me, interestingly, there were no other U.S. universities reporting cannabis horticulture work.”

Berkowitz said further investigation revealed there were few resources online regarding growing cannabis and studying it for strictly academic purposes.

“There’s a black curtain over scholarship, research and knowledge based on science and connecting companies with academic research that you can publish and share,” Berkowitz said. “You can have students learn from papers, but all of this was not happening. Companies are hiring people from the basement.”

Berkowitz said the trend of hiring individuals who are not qualified to deal with academic matters like bookkeeping can pose issues for the industry.

“We’re working with the industry and realizing that the people who are trying to move knowledge forward don’t even know or understand control experiments or keeping records,” Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz said UConn is an ideal location to develop a conversation and research basis for industrial cannabis.

“I can’t imagine there not being more justification for having a university like ours take the forefront and turn on some lights,” Berkowitz said. “There will be plenty of opportunities for students, as we develop the program, to get jobs.”

Berkowitz said students who pursue careers related to cannabis research are often more likely to find jobs in a rapidly developing workforce.

“Of the four companies in CT that are mandated growth facilities, I informally know that two of the four are expecting or trying to expand operation in other states like Massachusetts,” Berkowitz said, given that medical marijuana is also legalized in that state. “It’s an opportunity to connect students with jobs in the state and bring some light to the whole thing.”

The class is open to all university students, and there are no prerequisites to enroll. Graduates and undergraduates are invited to enroll, but the current limit of the class for the spring will be 120 students. Berkowitz said the limit may change depending on if a larger lecture hall can be secured.

Evert McKee, an undergraduate student who has worked with Berkowitz and received a UConn OUR Grant to conduct more cannabis research, praised the class.

“The class is to help people navigate through all of the misinformation,” McKee said. “Hopefully students will find an unbiased appreciation for consequences of cannabis and all the work that goes into growing it correctly.”

McKee said cannabis growth is extremely beneficial in numerous medical fields, and added that the class will allow students to explore careers and opportunities in those areas.

“Rather than people arguing whether or not cannabis even has benefits, individuals in our community will know the real pros and cons associated with cannabis consumption,” McKee said.

McKee said knowledge about cannabis is helpful for individuals who work in industrial fields and seek to make their work more efficient.

“Hemp cannabis can produce a fiber that’s 11 times stronger than steel but 10 times lighter,” McKee said. “You grow significantly more fiber per acre of hemp than cotton, and with less or no pesticides. This is huge considering the U.S. cotton industry easily spends $2 billion on pesticides in a year.”

Berkowitz spoke positively of the course and said it will allow students of all backgrounds and interests to gain more knowledge and insight regarding the changing nature of cannabis in the United States.

“There’s all sorts of exciting opportunities and students are already filling the niche,” Berkowitz said. “There’s so many students in so many backgrounds who are interested in catching this tidal wave, and there’s so much that is happening so quickly.”


Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at taylor.harton@uconn.edu.

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