Southeast Ohio has become the home to a progressive change in higher education. Hocking College opened its own marijuana testing facility and is the first college or university in the nation to offer a cannabis testing degree. In January, 12 students enrolled and began taking classes in the newly formed Cannabis Lab Technician program. Many see this as an important milestone for the college and the medical marijuana industry as a whole. Being the first is never an easy road, and Hocking College’s groundbreaking program would be no different.
The process began on September 8th, 2016 when Ohio’s General Assembly passed House Bill 523, which legalized medical marijuana. Dean of Workforce Development at Hocking College Sean Terrell says part of this bill stated that institutes of higher education were preferred to operate marijuana testing labs. This priority allowed Hocking College to apply before September 22nd, 2017. Private sector companies applied between November 27th and December 8th of the same year. Hocking College was one of two institutes of higher learning to apply. Seven privately held companies submitted applications. These labs are designated by the Ohio Department of Commerce with verifying the quality and safety of medical marijuana products. This was just the first step in a lengthily application process. “The application is a pretty hefty application,” Terrell says.
The college was granted a provisionary license on July 3rd of 2018. This meant they were allowed to start building their lab to get prepared for an application to obtain their operating license. The school purchased the former home of Starr Machine for $300,000 to be the home of their new cannabis testing facility. After a speedy renovation the new cannabis testing lab opened its doors to a public tour on December 20, 2018. Less than a month later, the school became the second lab to receive its operating license in Ohio. Hocking College could begin testing medical marijuana.
Hocking College will test marijuana before it heads to dispensaries, such as the soon to be open Harvest Inc. shop in Athens. Medical marijuana products can be used by anyone who obtains a Patient & Caregiver Registry card. Applicants must be over the age of 21 and be suffering from any of 21 approved aliments. Approved aliments include cancer, PTSD, chronic pain, and Parkinson’s Disease, among many others.
While Hocking College applied to open its testing facility, it also began creating its trailblazing program. The college saw this as more than an opportunity to be one of the first testing facilities. According to Hocking College, the medical marijuana industry is predicted to be worth $80 billion in Ohio alone. The rapidly growing industry needs a competent workforce. Hocking College saw this void and created its Cannabis Lab Technician major. Graduates will receive an associate degree of Applied Science in Laboratory Sciences. Cannabis Laboratory is just one of the three majors Hocking offers in this field.
The college is certainly proud of their new program, but incredibly careful about the perception it earns. They strictly limit who is allowed in the lab and this includes the media. It was difficult to get much information on the inner workings of the laboratory from Terrell or Fred Claussen, who is a professor of laboratory science at the college.
Hocking College believes that this program will bring more students to their school. So far, this prediction is coming true. In the fall of 2019 Hocking College enrolled 42 new students into the major. The college believes these numbers will continue to grow with the industry. Terrell believes that this growth will not just be limited to Hocking College. “Not just in Ohio, but nationwide as the industry continues to grow that other institutions will create programs,” says Terrell.
The booming medical marijuana industry demands a workforce and Hocking College plans on delivering.