ONTARIO, Canada — A green bunker is surrounded by a barbed wire fence on the Niagara College campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake. To go in, you have to put on a hairnet, a lab coat, and shoe covers. You also need a multi-digit pass code and an I.D. card to get in. What's behind this door is a unique educational program. There's only one like it in North America.
Niagara College is home to one of the world's only graduate certificate programs in cannabis production.
"Licensed producers were saying we can’t find enough skilled people and we took up the challenge to train the skilled people," Bill MacDonald, the program coordinator at Niagara College, said.
These aren't entry level jobs that students are training for, according to MacDonald. Students are only admitted if they have a degree in a field related to biology, plant sciences, or marketing.
"There's a lot of people that are thinking I’m going to grow some marijuana its a really large scale serious business and most companies are publicly traded so we want to make sure we are producing professionals for this industry," MacDonald said.
Students learn the best ways to grow marijuana and the business side of the industry. It's essentially a degree in plant science and marketing.
Ally Wilson is part of the first 48 students enrolled in the special program.
"I care about what were giving to people, and the quality we are presenting," she said.
Wilson already has a degree in biology. She also is a medical marijuana user. She said this was an obvious next step in her career.
"Were learning to really grow the crop properly."
The facility is a hands-on laboratory for students. It has all the beakers, soil nutrients, and measuring devices you could think of. The lights can even change colors to manipulate the plant in a variety of ways.
One of the most exciting aspects of this program, for students and faculty, is the curriculum changes as the laws and technology does.
"Learning in real time. A lot of our classes he's like, 'cut the lecture we have to focus on the news right now,'" Wilson said
Since it's the first class nobody knows exactly what job the students will get upon graduation. The administration goes out to different cannabis companies advertising the program, but these students are the first class. They will have to set the precedent for those to come. This also affects pay. MacDonald said the students are qualified for a salary of around $50,000 a year. However, employers may not see it that way and start the graduates off at a more entry-level salary.
At the moment, Wilson isn't too concerned with that. She is just happy explaining the tests going on in the lab.
"An iron deficient plant would get every nutrient besides iron and see how the plant reacts."
Right now, this is only offered to Canadian students.
"Since we are over subscribed we have to take people from Canada first," MacDonald said.
However, depending on how the program grows, that could change.