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US (MA): Clark University to launch cannabis regulation program

Across the nation, legalization of medical and adult-use cannabis marches forward. As America’s relationship with the plant continues to evolve, public officials struggle with public safety and health concerns surrounding legal cannabis sales. The job is made difficult by the knowledge gap that plagues the cannabis industry and the once-taboo nature of the topic.

Seeking to fill the educational void, Clark University is launching the nation’s first Certificate in Regulatory Affairs for Cannabis Control. The three-course graduate certificate program, slated to begin in fall 2019, will be offered online, which makes it available to participants around the country.

The certificate serves as a timely educational response to the urgent public-policy issues that have left many communities reeling.

For those seeking an informed understanding of the politics and policies of the plant, the Cannabis Control curriculum will build a solid framework to approach problem-solving and offer clear steps as widespread legalization takes shape.

John LaBrie, Clark University’s School of Professional Studies (SPS) dean and associate provost for professional graduate education, leads the program’s development. “There’s a great deal of cannabis research happening in the medical and scientific realms,” LaBrie says. “Our degree program here at Clark University will examine the public-policy issues, which are being largely underserved right now.”

Public administrators lack substantive research and resources to guide institutional agendas, he notes. According to LaBrie, universities have a responsibility to step in and develop avenues for further research. “Regardless of what institutions are thinking about from a public-policy or a campus policy, this degree program is essential to the understanding of how the cannabis industry will impact our larger society,” he says.

In Massachusetts, legalization of cannabis has caused a massive logistical challenge.

“Although Massachusetts is largely defined by the city of Boston, the vast majority of the Bay State is a collection of small municipalities and rural towns, many of whom were ill-prepared to handle the emergence of an industry that is growing very rapidly,” LaBrie says.

Many municipalities, including Worcester, are grappling with the issue of allowing people to consume cannabis in public spaces. Ongoing debates continue to dominate the local news, including how to address proposed cannabis-themed lounges and bars, where cannabis retail stores can be located, and how to manage traffic around dispensaries flooded with visitors.

LaBrie hopes the Cannabis Control certificate will help drive conversation to implement adequate safeguards in any state where cannabis is, or will be, legalized. “The issues that Massachusetts is experiencing right now are going to be the same nationwide,” he says.

Development of the Cannabis Control certificate arose out of identification of a public need by virtue of Clark University’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. “As we have an MPA, we understand that the public-policy issues surrounding the legalization of cannabis really call for an answer from an educational perspective,” Labrie explains. The credits earned in the cannabis certificate program will be applied toward an MPA degree.

The curriculum was designed under the close guidance and with the input of stakeholders who are experiencing those public-policy issues.

“The strategy we took in developing the coursework involved a high level of consultation with teams of experts in the field,” LaBrie says. Law enforcement and public health officials, town administrators, district attorneys, cannabis growers and distributors have all been involved in the certificate’s development.

As future home of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission headquarters, Worcester will be the hub for development of cannabis regulatory affairs in the Commonwealth. Clark University looks forward to building new partnerships and actively engaging with the commission once they arrive in late 2019, LaBrie says.

The boom in cannabis-related jobs means high demand for industry professionals to understand the emerging complications, opportunities, and risks associated with the industry. The certificate is expected to benefit all those involved in the cannabis supply chain, from law enforcement to cannabis vendors. “We would like participants from all sectors of both government and industry to come together to gain a deeper understanding of what legalization of cannabis means for our society,” LaBrie says. “As a matter of professional development for that population, this certificate will be invaluable.”

Action-oriented coursework will aim to sort through the noise and confusion. “The curriculum will cut through all the opposing and oftentimes biased viewpoints,” LaBrie says. “Participants will be able to understand the story of cannabis, how it fits into current society, the benefits and the risks of what we’re undertaking, and what to look forward to in the future.

“This is a living certificate — the laws could change any day,” he adds. “The exciting part about this certificate program is that it will grow and adjust with the cannabis market trends in real time.”

LaBrie recognizes the significance of Clark’s role in helping shape the cannabis regulatory environment. “I expect that over the next few years we’ll see the development of a regulatory regime that probably looks very different than it does today,” he says. “By virtue of this certificate, Clark University will be actively defining how the public-policy agenda looks.”

Learn more about Clark University’s new Certificate in Regulatory Affairs for Cannabis Control here.


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