Community college gives 'preference' to students of color for weed scholarship

An Illinois community college is giving "preference" to students of color for a new weed scholarship.

The college doubled down on its approach in a statement to Campus Reform, which emphasized "equity."

Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois recently announced it will be expanding its cannabis education programs with the launch of a new cannabis certificate program and cannabis cultivation lab on campus. 

According to the scholarship description on the Oakton website, one of the requirements for the scholarship is financial need. It also notes that the college will give preference to “students who are of color or victims of domestic violence.” 

The college recently received a donation from PharmaCann Inc., of $600,000, $550,000 of which will go towards building and maintaining the new cultivation lab. The other $50,000 will be used to fund the PharmaCann Scholarship for Cannabis Education Programs offered primarily to students of color.

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When asked for comment, Oakton Community College sent a quote directly from its president, Joianne L. Smith, which read: “We are honored and humbled by PharmaCann’s generosity and are excited about the opportunities this will create for our students and communities. Both Oakton and PharmaCann’s missions are strongly rooted in equity and we share a commitment of building stronger, more just communities through education.” 

Construction on the cultivation lab is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2021. The lab will be 2,900 square feet and include three growing rooms, as well as designated areas for plant drying and waste. 

The new certificate will focus on areas of cannabis education such as cultivation and day-to-day work in a dispensary, says Smith. She also explained that the courses and lab funded by the donation will offer opportunities for students to learn about the entire cannabis growth process. 

“Now students will be able to go into a lab and identify the anatomical components of the cannabis plant to cultivate and cure and dry cannabis in preparation for processing, to learn about the health of the cannabis plant and how to safely use pesticides and nutrients, and about all the safety and sanitary standards that are required when growing cannabis,” said Steve Fix, Oakton’s cannabis education program faculty chair.

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“As we work together, building this program, we’re going to provide students a comprehensive hands-on experience and exposure to the entire cannabis supply chain from cultivation, production, security, retail,” PharmaCann CEO Brett Novey said, according to the Chicago Tribune

Current laws prohibit the production of cannabis on college campuses, so, for now, students will work with different types of plants that have similar genetic makeups as that of cannabis. 

“As laws evolve, particularly at the federal level, the infrastructure of this lab will prepare us to transition to incorporating cannabis into our curriculum, if it is determined to be in the best interest of our students and the college to do so,” Smith said.

Oakton has been a leader in the cannabis education industry for years. 

In 2019, Oakton launched Illinois’s first medical cannabis education program with a 12-credit dispensary and patient care certificate. A year later, it added a certificate for cannabis transportation, logistics, and supply chain management. These two programs have awarded more than 70 certificates to students in the last two years.

According to Oakton, in 2020, the college held multiple free workshops for Illinois cannabis dispensary license applicants and prospective applicants, “supported by a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.” 

“The cannabis industry is changing very, very rapidly, and the workforce needs to change along with it,” said Fix, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Oakton is very proud to be at the forefront of providing quality instruction and training in an equitable way to students as we prepare them for success in a variety of jobs within the cannabis industry.

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