When considering how fast the cannabis industry has grown in Illinois, D.K. Lee can’t help but think of South Korea in the 1970s. Lee, an agronomy professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has spent most of his career studying perennial grasses and other specialty feedstocks.
A little over three years ago, Lee and his colleagues in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences started to discuss how UIUC could broaden its reach into specialty crops while gauging the interest and needs of Illinois growers. One crop that kept coming up was cannabis, a specialty crop that has some family history for Lee.
“There’s a lot of demand and interest for cannabis and hemp out there, but we realized there wasn’t necessarily any good information,” Lee said. “We as a university need to be the ones to start developing and establishing some research for the younger generation.”
As the popularity of both medical and adult-use cannabis grows in Illinois, education on the manufacturing, cultivation, and management of cannabis is following close behind. This fall, in addition to the University of Illinois, 11 community colleges across the state — more than ever before — will offer courses aimed at preparing students for jobs in the cannabis industry. The list of courses is increasingly sophisticated, from “cannabis and the law” at Oakton Community College to “cannabis flower production” at UIUC.
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