Cannabis Studies Program Focuses on Social and Environmental Responsibility

A stack of books about cannabis, including Weed the People, Chasing the Scream and more.
The Cannabis Studies degree prepares students to think critically about the past, present, and future of cannabis policy.
Among the first four-year degree programs of its type in the nation, Cal Poly Humboldt’s newly launched Cannabis Studies B.A. degree explores the historical, geographical, cultural, economic, and political contexts of cannabis legalization.

With a focus on social and environmental responsibility, the program draws on curriculum from 18 disciplines—from botany to chemistry, and environmental science to sociology. The interdisciplinary degree prepares students to be stewards of social change, navigate complex policy landscapes, and engage with diverse communities as well as conduct research.

While graduates of the program are qualified for careers working directly or indirectly with the plant itself, the major does not currently include touching cannabis or training or curriculum in cultivating, processing, or selling cannabis, as per California State University policy.

The need for professionals in this field has grown as more and more states welcome legal markets, and as federal legalization looms. Currently, there are more than 417,000 full-time jobs in the legal cannabis industry—and hundreds more are added each day, according to cannabis job reports from Vangst and Leafly. Graduates of the program will be prepared to fill these roles which include regulators, entrepreneurs, policy makers, chemists, lawyers, and more.

The region’s history and cultural heritage make it an exceptional place to host such a program, says Dominic Corva, Sociology professor and director of the Cannabis Studies degree.

“Humboldt County is an applied cannabis studies laboratory like no other,” Corva says. “Humboldt holds a special place. This is the domestic center of cannabis cultivation per capita, and has been for decades.”

While local history goes back to the1960s, the global history of cannabis extends back at least 10,000 years. Cannabis Studies students will follow the plant’s journey from ancient to modern times, learning about its past, present, and future.

Ultimately, Cannabis Studies graduates will think critically about the limits, possibilities, and promises of cannabis policy reform. This is a key to building a sustainable and equitable future, says Corva.

“We're at the beginning of a major global overhaul of the human-cannabis relationship,” Corva says. “It's a really good opportunity to learn about how to place oneself in a global historical context.”

“The passage of laws and legalization are a starting point for new policies, research, and social concerns,” says Corva. Humboldt’s Cannabis Studies students are at the forefront, helping to shape policies and lead a modern industry that’s still in its infancy.

They also have the opportunity to help conduct groundbreaking research alongside the nation’s top cannabis researchers at the University’s Cannabis Studies lab. Here, they are collecting data on legacy cannabis genetics and the communities that steward them.

Kaid Chapman is a first-year Cannabis Studies major and research assistant in the lab where he says he’s helping preserve history.

“We gather information, we search through media—podcasts, newsletters, whatever it may be—and we find the stories about these genetics,” Chapman says. “This research is going to give California’s legacy cannabis operators a voice.”

The opportunity to participate in this research offers an unparalleled experience, he explains.

“Humboldt County has one of the richest cannabis cultures in the nation. Because of that, I do not think I'd get this type of education anywhere else,” he says. “Humboldt, in particular, is a magical place. There are other Cannabis Studies programs out there, but nothing like what Cal Poly Humboldt has to offer.”

Chapman’s interest in medicinal cannabis is what drew him to the major. “Cannabis Studies is perfect because not only do I get to learn about plant science, I also learn about social equity, social justice, and the political and economic part of cannabis.”

That interdisciplinary approach is preparing the next generation to build a more equitable legal cannabis industry, he says. “The program is helping lay the foundation for a future cannabis industry that we hope to build,” he says. “We're going to make history.”