Bachelors and Masters Degrees Now Offered in the Business of Cannabis
May 18, 2022
In this episode of CannaCast, Eric Altstadter, Partner and leader of EisnerAmper’s Cannabis and Hemp Group, speaks with Michael Zaytsev, Academic Director, Business of Cannabis at LIM College, that has recently created a Bachelors of Business Administration and a Masters of Professional Studies degree programs in The Business of Cannabis.
Mike, you wrote The Entrepreneur's Guide to Cannabis in 2016, and followed it up with The Cannabis Business Book in 2020. What are some of the more significant changes that have occurred since you initially published your recent book?
MZ:Oh, wow. There's so many. I think the biggest one that comes to mind is all the new jurisdictions that have become legal or have commercialized and regulated cannabis, including my home state, New York, which I'm super excited about, but there's really so much has happened since then.
EA:LIM College recently started offering bachelor's and master's degree programs in the business of cannabis. What role do you have at LIM College and in this program?
MZ:So, as the Academic Director of these programs, I'm responsible with building out our faculty and curriculum, as well as being there to address students' needs and to create partnerships with industry for internships, and ultimately jobs for our graduates eventually.
EA:In the past, LIM College has been known for creating programs in the business of fashion. Tell us a little bit about LIM College, and why LIM College for this particular program?
MZ:Yeah, so LIM college has been around for 80 years in Midtown Manhattan, and started out to solve a workforce gap in the fashion industry. They have been really successful at helping students find careers in the fashion industry, really on the business side of things. They saw the trend of cannabis legalization and realized that a lot of the core business skills that they were really great at teaching specifically in the fashion world apply to cannabis. So for example, supply chain management, retail operations, visual merchandising, and a number of other skillsets that directly translate.
EA:There are some other universities and colleges that have, or are exploring programs like this. Do you see many other colleges and universities moving ahead with programs like this?
MZ:I'm only aware of a handful in the whole country, and certainly in New York State, we are launching the first state-approved bachelors and master's degree programs in anything cannabis related. As far as I know, education is a conservative industry in a lot of ways, and I think there's still a lot of stigma and fear from most schools, where they don't really know how to approach cannabis and feel comfortable with all the unique risks and challenges of entering the cannabis industry.
EA:Some of the majors offered by LIM College include regulatory compliance, business of cultivation and manufacturing, retailing, justice issues, and that's just to name a few. Are there any additional classes or majors you envision?
MZ:Yeah, so those are all classes in our degree programs. The major itself is Business of Cannabis and the degrees are in the business of cannabis. I just want to emphasize that, especially on the undergraduate side, the bachelor's, you're getting a full business degree with finance, accounting, everything that you would get in any other business program. And in addition, you're getting that highly specialized cannabis industry knowledge. Now, as far as other electives we could offer in the future, I envision that we'll likely add something in the finance or capital space and something in the hemp and sustainability space, and potentially something in the beauty and cosmetic space. But it's really going to depend on student demand and where the students' interests lie.
EA:I remember seeing that the program is available online or in person. How has the response been so far?
MZ:Yeah, so we are offering the graduate program online only, and the undergrad is available either on campus or online, or a blend. The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, not only from prospective students, but also from industry. There's been a lot of support and enthusiasm, and I think a lot of people recognize that bringing cannabis education to accredited institutions and having cannabis degree programs really helps the industry move forward, and helps us to train the workforce that's going to ultimately fuel this industry and drive this industry for many years to come.
EA:When you first started High New York, did you ever think a college program like this could ever become a reality?
MZ:It might not surprise you what I'm going to say, Eric, but absolutely. I knew it was inevitable. I had so much conviction in the cannabis movement and I just knew it was a matter of time until we reintroduced cannabis into mainstream society the way that it had been a part of daily life pre-prohibition. So I'm not surprised that this is happening, but I do feel incredibly lucky, and sometimes I'm very surprised that I find myself in this position, that I get to be doing this stuff, because it's really a dream come true.
EA:How did you first get into the cannabis industry?
MZ:I started out as a consumer, as a high school student in New York City. Many years later, I went to a networking event where I received my first bit of actual cannabis education from some advocates and activists and medical patients, and people who had known a lot more about the plant, where I had always been pretty ignorant. They never taught any real cannabis education in schools, or anywhere for that matter, outside of the propaganda. So when I got my first bit of cannabis education, that was like an aha moment for me, and I realized that this was something that I wanted to be a part of. And so I started producing High NY events to get myself educated and to get other people educated back in 2014, to show people that it was okay to be a part of the cannabis community, and that it was okay for us to be open and gather and not have to hide and feel ashamed of our passion for cannabis.
EA:Besides federal legalization and the issues that brings, what are some of the other major issues that impact this industry?
MZ:Yeah, so I think the biggest issue by and large is, and this is my personal belief and not the college's view. I have to say that. Industry, by and large, have not done enough to correct the harms of prohibition and to create an equitable, inclusive and truly progressive industry. I know that there's a lot of talk about how do we do that, and a lot of passion around that subject and a lot of coverage in the media, but I really think that we've only scratched the surface of what's possible and what's necessary. I think that's the biggest problem I see in the industry.
EA:It's interesting you say that. I think I was reading earlier today that so many people have run for office, various offices that they could run for, using cannabis as one of their items that they're talking about. And after being elected, they really haven't done some of the things they said they were going to do when running for that office. I think that kind of goes hand in hand with what you're saying there.
MZ:Yeah, and I think that, as I believed in 2014 and I still think is true today, we still need a lot of education on all sides of this. From medical patients and consumers, to industry professionals, to regulators and beyond. Otherwise, it's very hard to stand up an industry and do it in a sustainable way when so many of the stakeholders and decision makers have never had access to uniform or standard education.
EA:Mike, what in your mind is holding up federal legalization?
MZ:Oh, boy. I think there's so many issues. I think a lot of it is the fact that cannabis is so complex and there are so many big questions, that I think there's a reluctance to take the lead and to be tied to this issue because it is so visible and so complicated, and the regulators, they never make everyone happy. There's always someone who's going to be upset with how things happen. I think that's a big part of it, and honestly, I don't think we're ready for that. I think there's intermediate steps that could happen, that would probably be better to ensure a successful industry. I'm always a big believer that it's better that we get it right than that we get it done quickly. And unfortunately, sometimes the political will is to get it done quickly because of election cycles and whatnot. But that being said, I do think it will happen sooner than most people expect.
EA:That was actually going to be my last question, do you think that federal legalization is on the horizon?
MZ:It's inevitably on the horizon, and where even years ago the question was, is it possible, will it ever happen? And now the question is, how soon will it happen? So I think it will happen. I think it is imminent, and I won't put a timeline on it, but I do think it's certainly inevitable at this point. With cannabis, anything could happen. So we could look back at this years from now and see that I was wrong.
EA:Well, we hope not.
EA:Mike, when are classes expected to start at LIM College?
MZ:So we're launching both programs this fall in September, so if you haven't applied yet, it would be good to do so sooner rather than later.
EA:And where can somebody who's interested in the program get information on the program?
MZ:They can visit limcollege.edu/cannabis. And there, you could find info about the programs, the curriculum, the faculty, how to apply, and you could also find my contact info in case you have further questions or want to learn more.
EA:Thanks, Mike, for participating today. And thanks for listening to CannaCast, as part of the EisnerAmper Podcast series. Visit eisneramper.com/cannabis for more information and podcasts. Join us for our next CannaCast Podcast, where we'll discuss other budding issues.
Transcribed by Rev.com