Forty students are currently enrolled and beginning the first class within NMU’s medicinal plant chemistry major, which has gained national attention and is the first of its kind in the nation.
The program prepares students to work in the cannabis industry, said Lesley Putman, Ph.D, a professor in the department of chemistry at NMU.
“That is not our only goal. The title is medicinal plant chemistry, so we’re studying the things you can extract from plants that may have medicinal value, but we recognize that there is a big job market for those in the cannabis industry and the skills we are going to teach here will prepare them for that,” Putman said.
The program is designed to educate students on the chemistry of medicinal plants, but also provides them with analytical skills that can be applied in different areas such as nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals as
well as cannabis, she added. While the medicinal plant chemistry major has generated Northern a lot of attention and prospective students, the new field does come with some obstacles, Putman said.
Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Michigan, but is still illegal federally. So far the chemistry department hasn’t run into any complications with the new major because they have adhered to state laws, but they are unsure of how federal laws will interact with the state in the future, she added.
“The fact that it’s illegal federally is kind of an ongoing speed bump because we can’t have cannabis on campus, so we’re going to have the students working with other plants, but they can do internships where they can actually use cannabis.”
A common misconception is that students within the program will be studying the effects of cannabis which may be a possibility in the future, Putman said, but for now the focus lies in the chemistry of the plant. The
university has received over 500 applicants thus far for the innovative program.
“People have suggested things to us, everything from a minor to a graduate degree and so forth, but we really need to focus on the four year program we’ve designed and see where it goes from there, because we don’t really know how it’s going to come out,” Putman said. “We have some innovative courses in the works, so we’re just trying to see how that goes before we make any decisions about future directions.” The first of the medicinal plant chemistry courses began yesterday, said Alex Roth, sophomore medicinal plant chemistry major.
“[This] was actually the first day that I had a class that pertained to the major,” Roth said. “It’s exciting to see all of the interest and all the possibilities in this. Our professors were talking about companies wanting to offer us internships and the internships have a wide range from being in the lab working with the actual medicinal chemistry of the plants to marketing for businesses.”
For Roth, the new major offers him the opportunity to be a part of something new and bigger than himself, he said. “I want to be at the forefront of normalizing this.”