The marijuana industry does not need higher education.
Consider where the industry stood 20 years ago. Federal authorities menaced suppliers with national defense (Coast Guard) and paramilitary resources at the border. Anyone active in the supply chain faced severe consequences and loss of liberty. Even more dangerous was the possibility that one among hundreds of thousands of local police officers might discover marijuana suppliers and imprison them.
The last of these risks is now fading. State and local authorities are increasingly forbidden from interfering in the marijuana trade. Connecticut has joined the ranks of states where marijuana is largely decriminalized at the local level.
Supply of marijuana in the United States was robust even when federal, state and local resources were actively undermining the industry. One report estimates black market sales of marijuana at $46.4 billion in 2016. The industry figured out how to make marijuana available even under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. It therefore stands to reason that, without any help from higher education, supply will naturally expand as state and local barriers fall.
Higher education was not a prerequisite to supplying marijuana during the era of extreme prohibition. Mexico is, historically, one of the most important black market suppliers of marijuana in the United States. Its government has the lowest educational spending per student within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Marijuana is colloquially known as “weed.” Weeds are not hard to grow. This is not work that requires an advanced degree. There is also the risk that advanced research on cannabis is actively harming Americans, including youth. There is emerging evidence that higher potency in marijuana is making teenagers ill at increasing rates.
It is a wonder, then, that Connecticut taxpayers are subsidizing so-called “Cannabis Studies” in our state’s higher education system. UConn has “cannabis programs.” My own employer, Eastern Connecticut State University, is hosting a “New England Cannabis Research and Education Conference” in which those who send in $1,000 are sold a “Sensimilla” sponsorship. These are misguided attempts by cash-hungry management to participate in a speculative frenzy.
Ultimately, marijuana supply will resemble what we see in alcohol supply. We already have all the higher education programs we need in order to make beer and wine available and the same is true for marijuana.
In the modern era, higher education is resource-starved. Public support for colleges and universities is disappearing rapidly. That support is too dear to waste on a fad like “Cannabis studies.” For example, there is a well-known mental health crisis among the undergraduate population. It is disappointing and disturbing that colleges and universities would fritter away resources on unnecessary programs while student mental health needs are unaddressed.
This kind of blatant disregard for caring for students does not augur well for the future of public higher education in Connecticut.
Brendan M. Cunningham, PhD is a Professor of Economics at Eastern Connecticut State University.