Excelsior College’s Cannabis Education Program Strengthens Interest in the Industry

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Columns | <b>Cannabis Voices</b>

Gretchen Schmidt, Faculty Program Director Criminal Justice Programs & Cannabis Control at Excelsior College, discusses the graduate certificate program offered at her college.

Cannabis education initiatives are expanding across the United States as students see the promise and excitement in this new industry. Excelsior College in Albany, New York recently created a Cannabis Control program, which is designed to prepare students with interests in legal and regulatory aspects of the cannabis industry. We recently spoke to Gretchen Schmidt, Faculty Program Director Criminal Justice Programs & Cannabis Control at Excelsior College, about the college’s graduate certificate program in further detail.

Can you tell us a little bit about your Graduate Certificate in Cannabis Control program?
Gretchen Schmidt:
Excelsior College’s Cannabis Control Certificate is a three-course, 9-credit graduate certificate program developed in response to the relatively nascent and rapidly expanding legal cannabis sector. Over the last year, we have had numerous conversations with industry leaders and experts who have continually stressed the importance of understanding the regulatory complexities, and how they impact all aspects of industry. Our goal was to create an education program that could meet the demand for regulatory clarity and subject matter expertise within the industry. Given the illegality at the federal level, the varying ways that legalization has occurred at the state level has left even more variation at the local level. Understanding all of these are critical to participating in this industry. Our program was created with an interdisciplinary focus bringing students from business, criminal justice, public policy, public health, and cyber together to look at regulation, cannabis as commerce, and the risks associated with the industry. And we continually utilize input and guidance from industry leaders through our Industrial Advisory Committee.

How does your Graduate Certificate program in Cannabis Control prepare participants for the cannabis industry?

Schmidt: This certificate focuses on the regulatory complexities because they are what guide all aspects of the cannabis industry. In order to be successful in this industry you must understand what you can and cannot do and the manner in which you can operate. 

As such, in the first course, students learn how cannabis legalization has had an impact on various institutions, entities, and individuals while also exploring the dilemmas between policy and legal regimes. They examine the importance of compliance and how to create standard operating procedures and employee training, develop a community plan. In the next course students look at the national and local laws and regulations that have shaped the current legalized cannabis industry. They study existing cannabis tax schemes, assess their impacts on businesses and effectiveness in meeting individual cannabis program goals, and suggest improvements, as well as develop strategies for businesses and governments to plan for and meet shifting tax burdens. They also analyze economic, legal, and public health implications of traceability and transport of cannabis and cannabis industry supporting products and explore how raw materials and products are traced through the supply chain. This course also has the student research the differences between cannabinoids and how laboratory tests protect the public from harmful microbial bacteria and pesticides, including the traceability process and regulations in place to facilitate a full product recall. In the last course, students explore the tensions between public safety, diversion, patient access and community integration along with advertising, marketing, sales, consumer use, and social equity. They learn through various stakeholder lenses such as regulators, operators, and consumers. Through these lenses they identify risks that can't be mitigated through an umbrella insurance policy such as technology and data standards and go through a site selection process, evaluating insurance policies and applications to mitigate risks associated with the cannabis industry. Finally, you will identify gaps in regulations and write regulations that address testing, public consumption, and social equity. The program is interdisciplinary in nature having students from multiple disciplines interacting together and learning how different aspects of the industry affect each other. One way this is accomplishes is through a class wiki which the students will contribute to in each of the courses and will serve as a living FAQ that they will keep as a valuable resource. Finally, the students generate an electronic portfolio to showcase their work in the program to present to prospective employers.

Are there any requirements for the program?

Schmidt: This is a graduate degree, so a bachelor’s degree is required for admission. There are three avenues: 1) enrolling in the certificate program; 2) taking courses as electives in our current master’s degrees; and 3) enrolling in the concentrations for the MBA, MPA, MSCJ or MSHS which open in the Spring 2021 semester.


Have you seen an increased interest in the Cannabis Control program?

Schmidt: Yes, inquiries for the Graduate Certificate in Cannabis Control have grown to 25% of all graduate level leads.

Why do people need specialized training and education to be able to succeed in the cannabis industry? How does supply chain management fit in?

Schmidt: We know through market research and consultation with experts and advisors in the field that the regulatory environment is complex, with the federal government’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, and wide variations in levels of legalization across states (medical use versus non-medical). The implications are far reaching for both the existing criminal justice system—which has been criminalizing the use of cannabis—and public health which has also been treating cannabis as dangerous, with some notable exceptions around research-supported medical interventions. Such complexity requires improvements in education of individuals and organizations operating within the field including business, government, and nonprofits. As noted in the New York Department of Health’s report entitled, Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State (1), “Implementation of a regulated marijuana program will require considerable planning as to the regulatory mechanisms needed to protect public health, provide consumer protection, and ensure public safety.”/We see this program providing a much-needed resource for organizations who are seeking ways to grapple with the challenges of moving in the industry from an unregulated to a regulated market.

Do you have any plans to grow your course offerings to include more cannabis industry-related courses? Or form a Bachelors/Master’s degree program?

Schmidt: We are currently exploring options to expand at the bachelor’s level. From our inquiries thus far, we see a need for education at the undergraduate level. We continue to seek opportunities to best support a legal industry that some economic forecasts predict will be a $73 billion industry by 2027 (2). Leveraging our research and experts, along with our fully online delivery model, we will be able to provide high-quality, academically rigorous courses to support adult learners from diverse academic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds.


  1. Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State, p 23.