As Hocking College prepares to start testing medical marijuana in its new laboratory, administrators plan to offer related courses to students interested in cannabis and other fields requiring laboratory research skills.
“We are getting a lot of inquiries about laboratory sciences in general, and specifically about cannabis laboratory technicians,” Hocking College President Betty Young said. “This is a new and emerging industry.”
The state recently issued a provisional license to the public two-year technical college in Athens County, about 65 miles southeast of Columbus, to test medical marijuana. Central State University near Dayton also has received a provisional license. The Ohio Department of Commerce will issue certificates of operation once inspectors have approved the labs, spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski said.
Hocking College, which operates on an approximately $30 million general-fund budget, anticipates spending about $2 million from its budget reserve fund to start the lab. That includes the cost to renovate and equip a former manufacturing building off campus on Sylvania Avenue in Nelsonville that the college bought last year for $300,000. The work includes installing a climate-control system and adding a security fence and surveillance cameras.
Testing fees that marijuana growers and processors pay the college for the service are to fund the lab’s operating costs, and also help to replenish the college’s budget reserve fund, Young said. The college is still developing its business plan for the project and has not set fee amounts.
The lab probably will start with five or six workers, using equipment that will test marijuana not only for its potency but also for the presence of pesticides, mold and fungus. More workers could be hired later, depending on demand, said lab director Jonathan Cachat, who is leading the development of associated curriculum.
Students pursuing laboratory science degrees will use the lab for hands-on experience.
Hocking College plans to offer an associate of applied science in laboratory sciences with majors in medical, chemical and cannabis laboratory. The Ohio Department of Higher Education has approved the medical and chemical laboratory majors, concluding that they respond to shifting job market demands, including a shortage of qualified lab technicians. The department is reviewing the proposed cannabis major.
“For us at Hocking College, being able to bring laboratory science jobs to southern Ohio allows us to fulfill a piece of our economic-development strategy,” she said.
Nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, and the majority of states now allow medical marijuana.
College courses are reflecting the interest in cannabis as a career track, said Cachat, who noted that Northern Michigan University offers a four-year degree in medicinal-plant chemistry.
He predicted that the cannabis test lab and associated course work will excite students about research and laboratory work in general.
The college expects about 3,000 students to enroll for the fall semester, which starts in August. Courses in the medical and chemical laboratory majors could begin as soon as January, Young said, and courses in the cannabis laboratory major are to be offered as soon as possible, pending state approval.
Student Breann Corder said she is proud that Hocking College will play a role in Ohio’s new medical-marijuana program.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Corder, a 21-year-old fitness-management major from Rockbridge in Hocking County. “I don’t do (marijuana), but it’s great for people who need it. I think it’s a much better alternative to drugs for cancer pain and for anxiety.”