Bill C-45, which legalizes recreational cannabis use in Canada, passed through the Senate on June 20 with a vote of 52-29. With legalization slated to begin on October 17, this historic end to what has been called “90 years of prohibition” coincides conveniently with the expansion of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s cannabis programs.
David Purcell, KPU’s Director of Emerging Business, is thrilled about Bill C-45 becoming law, saying that “it’s been a long time coming.”
Purcell oversees the university’s cannabis programs and partnerships. The Cannabis Career Training program is meant to provide “a foundational understanding” of Canada’s cannabis sector. Students learn about cultivation, facility management, marketing, and finance in adherence with federal and provincial regulations.
KPU’s Cannabis Career Training has proven to be popular. The last eight intakes into the program have been full, leaving a waitlist of approximately 200 students. Purcell adds that KPU is developing additional courses with a focus on cultivation, quality assurance, and retail.
“The courses that we’re developing today are a more advanced, in-depth view of those particular topics,” he says.
One of those is a 32-week long cannabis cultivation technician course which was designed to “meet a need” in the industry, according to Purcell. He explains that KPU works in tandem with licensed producers across Canada to learn which gaps are present in the business of marijuana. The new course focuses on the entire process of production, including seed selection and cloning, fertilization techniques, harvesting, and cultivation.
“Growing cannabis is easy but doing so well within the regulatory framework is actually quite difficult,” says Purcell.
KPU recently announced a partnership with CannTrust, a medicinal marijuana corporation. Purcell says that its expertise in cultivation, quality assurance, and operations will be invaluable to the university.
Despite his optimism, not everyone believes that this rapid introduction of cannabis programs into universities like KPU is a wise move.
David Robinson, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, says universities are rushing too quickly to implement cannabis-based programs. He argues that academic integrity must be adhered to, and that programs should be developed through educational institutions and not at the behest of corporations.
“There seems to be a mad rush right now for institutions across the country—colleges and universities—to develop these programs,” he says. “There’s a bit of irrational exuberance that often drives these things.”
He advocates for making university-corporate partnership agreements public knowledge so that academic bodies can secure their authority over the program. He also recommends ensuring that the corporate sponsors adhere to research integrity and academic freedom.
“What makes universities and colleges unique is that they are places where scholars can engage in independent research … hopefully free of external influence. Giving sponsors too much influence jeopardizes that academic mission,” he says.
Robinson’s caution is rooted past failures of university agreements with corporate sponsors. He also fears potential market crashes, saying that cannabis market predictions are “grossly over-exaggerated.”
In response to Robinson’s cautions, Purcell says that tens of millions of square feet of cultivation space are being developed and experts are being trained for the cannabis industry due to demand. He anticipates that 50,000 to 150,000 new jobs are being created in Canada because of this.
“We don’t see an imminent crash coming down the line anytime soon, so we recognize the need for trained employees and that’s what we’re setting out to do,” he says. “Our coursework is reflective of what the industry demands.”
Over the past year, Purcell has been developing partnerships with other post-secondary institutions across Canada to educate people using KPU’s cannabis coursework. He believes that promoting B.C.’s cannabis industry is critical and hopes to eventually create a national network of cannabis-related courses.