Triton College students will have the opportunity to learn how to grow, care and manage cannabis plants through a new course this fall. The course – aptly named cannabis cultivation – is folded into the college’s greenhouse grow operations certificate program where students can learn about the cultivation of cannabis plants, which can be used for recreational and medicinal purposes, as well as high-value crops and ornamental plants. 

The certificate program, which can be completed in five classes which can spread across two semesters, allows students to understand the cannabis industry and production of urban food products or tropical and herbaceous plants, and what career paths are available. As of this January, Leafly, a Seattle, Washington-based company, reported that legal cannabis was supported by 428,059 full-time jobs, which ranged from retail sales to legal affairs, construction and even public relations. 

“In community college, we’re always interested in the job outlook,” said Paul Jensen, associate vice president of academic innovation and workforce education at Triton. With the cannabis industry, “the market is really growing,” he added. 

The large cannabis companies have been extraordinarily helpful to all the colleges that are growing and that are trying to train people.

paul jensen, assoc. vice president of academic innovation and workforce education

That’s why the college, based in River Grove, expanded its curricula to include the new cannabis cultivation course and a separate program where students can become certified cannabis dispensary technicians. Those two courses were added largely due to a statewide effort that sought to launch vocational cannabis pilot programs in Illinois’ community colleges. Triton College is among about a dozen community colleges licensed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Community College Board that have those types of certificate programs.

“There’s the growing, and then there’s the dispensing,” Jensen said.

Like chrysanthemums or poinsettias, cannabis plants can be finicky, he said. The plants require the right conditions, including the right humidity and the right amount of sunlight and darkness, to grow, mature and flower. Controlled environments are perfect for cannabis plants, he told Wednesday Journal.

One thing to note, said Jensen, is that Triton and many other community colleges are not legally allowed to grow cannabis on campus. Though cannabis, or marijuana, is legal for medical and/or recreational use in dozens of states such as Illinois, it remains illegal under federal law.

For students taking Triton’s cannabis-related courses, they study other plants similar to cannabis plants. The college also partners with cannabis craft growers in Chicago who offer students tours of their facilities and observe production.

“The large cannabis companies have been extraordinarily helpful to all the colleges that are growing and that are trying to train people,” Jensen said. “They’ve bent over backwards to help us develop curriculum and tour facilities and provide experts as speakers to our classes.”

With the start of the fall semester just days away, Jensen said he is excited to see what students will take away from the new cannabis cultivation course and belong to a group of community colleges participating in the state’s vocational pilot program. 

“When there’s an opportunity for us to participate in a program that will give back to the community, we’re going to jump at the opportunity,” he said. “We’re very excited to be able to get this license, bring this program here and work with the people in the community.”

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