SCHENECTADY — SUNY Schenectady Community College is working to develop a program centered around the creation and marketing of cannabis edibles, which college officials hope to launch as soon as the spring 2023 semester.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday announced $5 million in awards to SUNY and CUNY community colleges to develop and strengthen cannabis-related programs already in place as a way to prepare New Yorkers for future career opportunities after state lawmakers last year moved to legalize marijuana and adopt a framework for future dispensary sales.
“New York’s new cannabis industry is creating exciting opportunities, and we will ensure that New Yorkers who want careers in this growing sector have the quality training they need to be successful,” Hochul said in a statement.
SUNY Schenectady will partner with three area colleges — SUNY Adirondack, Columbia-Greene Community College and Fulton-Montgomery Community College — to develop curriculum using $1 million in funding, with SUNY Schenectady acting as the lead institution.
Funds will be divided evenly between the four campuses over the next three years, with each college focusing on different aspects of the industry, according to Sarah Wilson-Sparrow, vice president of workforce development and community education for SUNY Schenectady.
Fulton-Montgomery began offering cannabis-related courses pertaining to cannabis cultivation this past academic year and will be expanding the program. Meanwhile, Columbia-Greene has plans to launch a cannabis retail sales program this fall, and SUNY Adirondack will be developing a program related to business management.
“Each college is in a slightly different place and will be focusing on different aspects of the cannabis industry, and each college, depending on where they’re at, is in different stages as far as development,” Wilson-Sparrow said.
Niagara County Community College and Orange County Community College also received $1 million grants and will partner to develop curriculum with community colleges in western New York and the Hudson Valley, respectively.
The Borough of Manhattan Community College received $2 million to develop programming alongside Lehman College in the Bronx.
The funding comes as the state continues to inch closer to the first legal marijuana sales authorized under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the law that legalized marijuana consumption for adults 21 and over.
Last week, the state’s Office of Cannabis Management issued final guidance pertaining to the issuance of conditional marijuana dispensary licenses, which are reserved for those impacted by the war on drugs with prior business experience. Earlier this year, the state began issuing conditional cultivating licenses to hemp farmers earlier this year, including several in Montgomery and Schenectady counties.
Guidance for regular retail and cultivation licenses are expected to be handed down later this year.
The cannabis industry is expected to provide an economic boom to the state once sales begin.
A 2019 study by the Rockefeller Institute of Government found that the industry could generate $1.7 billion in economic output and create more than 30,000 jobs
At SUNY Schenectady, Wilson-Sparrow said the college is working to develop a micro-credential program that will prepare students for a career in the cannabis edible industry. The program would likely consist of three or four classes and could be completed in a year.
Edibles are products like candies and baked goods that are infused with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that gets people high.
The program, which will be developed with local businesses in the industry, including Pure Cannabis and VHNY, and combine class instruction with extensive hands-on learning that will allow students to either enter directly into the workforce or into a certificate or degree program at the college, Wilson-Sparrow said.
“It would be a microcredential that stands on its own and is sufficient unto itself should that be all that that students needs, but we also like to make sure the student finds it very enjoyable and wants to pursue on to finish a certificate or degree, then they would tap right into our existing culinary programs,” she said.
Wilson-Sparrow said the college also plans to market the program to those impacted by the war on drugs, but noted the program would be open to anyone who qualifies since the college is open-enrollment.
The college decided to focus on the edible industry because it compliments the college’s culinary arts program, which is one of the most popular programs the college offers, said Steady Moon, president of SUNY Schenectady.
Last year the college enrolled 113 and 109 culinary arts majors during the fall and spring semester, respectively.
The college also opened a confections lab and has a popular baking program, both of which Moono believes will play pivotal roles in cannabis programming.
“We are taking advantage of where our strengths are,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, plans call for expanding the college’s cannabis program, which consists of three certificates and a degree program, by upgrading an existing hydroponics lab and constructing a new lab, according to Daniel Fogarty, the college’s associate dean of academic and student affairs.
Fogarty said the college plans to spend a “vast majority” of its portion of funds on students, including wraparound services like transportation assistance. There are also plans to hire additional adjunct professors.
The college partnered with Vireo Health and Goodness Growth Holdings last year to launch its cannabis program, but Fogarty noted that the college currently has 14 business partners and enrolled around 50 students.
He said capacity could double to 100 once the upgrades are complete, and expects marijuana cultivation to provide a boom for the college and surrounding communities.
“We’re not only working on getting students into our program, but we’re also very active with our businesses and leaders within the region to attract more businesses and companies to the area,” Fogarty said. “This grant will not only train the future workforce, but it is also designed to market the region as the place to come and start your business, grow your business and jump into this field.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.