WILLIMANTIC, CT — Beginning this fall semester, Eastern Connecticut State University will offer one of Connecticut’s first hemp cultivation minors with an eye toward expansion as an interdisciplinary major in the future. The announcement follows recent state legislation making Connecticut the 19th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Licensed in the State of Connecticut as an official hemp producer with the Department of Agriculture, Eastern can now host classes in how to cultivate hemp from seed to harvest.
Leading the program at Eastern is plant biologist Bryan Connolly, who hopes the program will attract new students to the study of plant biology. “I’m going to be teaching basic plant biology; it will be a way of looking at the biological processes in all plants, with an emphasis on hemp or cannabis,” he said.
Connolly said classes will focus on cannabidiol (CBD) types, fiber and seed, the specific way to cultivate plants, trellis and understanding different THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels in different types of cannabis. “I hope students will also learn which variety do you choose, for what purposes and what do you expect to get out of it, when to harvest and how to dry.”
The program will have a practical, hands-on approach, including a carefully controlled and secure grow room where students can watch their plants grow and thrive. Connolly was clear that the program is primarily focused on hemp plants and not marijuana or cannabis plants at this time. Hemp and marijuana or higher THC cannabis are two different names for the cannabis plant. The difference is in the levels of the chemical THC, where hemp has 0.3 percent or lower THC content.
“Students will gain a better understanding of what the plant is and understand the differences between cannabis and hemp, the uses of hemp and CBD and THC,” Connolly added. “Hopefully they will be able to get hands-on training and grow a plant, which is really more of an art form in some ways than a science.”
With the global industrial hemp market at $4.71 billion as of 2019 according to Grand View Research, Eastern is hoping to attract future hemp entrepreneurs to its program as well as increasing undergraduate student curiosity about the study of plant biology.
William Salka, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the program will have an interdisciplinary focus as it grows. “One track will be based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and include chemistry and health sciences. The second track will involve more of the business and policy side of the cannabis industry, including management and marketing, economics, criminology and political science.”
Salka said the benefits of the hemp program will help students see an emerging professional industry in action. “As the cannabis industry grows, there will be demand for college graduates who can develop new strands of cannabis, cultivate and harvest the crops, and process the product for sale,” he said. “There will also be demand for graduates who understand the business and policy side of this industry. Eastern’s cannabis program and focus on the liberal arts are intended to fill both needs while ensuring our graduates are prepared not only to enter this industry but develop into leaders in their fields.”