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CSU Pueblo offers cannabis biology and chemistry degree

Illustration showing various test tubes and beakers with cannabis leaves growing out of them
(Graphic Illustration by Trin Bonner | The Collegian)

As the cannabis industry explodes into a vital part of the American economy, more schools are attempting to train students to function in this exciting new world.

Colorado State University Pueblo has become one of the first universities in the country to offer an undergraduate degree in cannabis science. Students can work to achieve a four-year degree in cannabis biology and chemistry, and according to David W. Lehmpuhl, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of STEM at CSU Pueblo, the development couldn’t have come soon enough.

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“Scientists who have been working with the cannabis plant have been really limited in what they can study and how they can study because it has been classified as a Schedule I substance,” Lehmpuhl said. “We saw the advent of all of the research coming around that really showed a big gap in the research.”

“We’re really focused on the science behind it to know how to do research on it. … It is a rigorous science degree.” – David W. Lehmpuhl, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of STEM at CSU Pueblo

The cannabis biology and chemistry program opened its doors in fall 2020. Through its emphasis areas of analytical and natural products sciences, students can become informed and capable scientists working with the cannabis plant.

“There’s a lot of education going on still as to what the degree really is,” Lehmpuhl said. “If you want to learn how to grow cannabis, that’s probably not really what this program is focused on. We’re really focused on the science behind it to know how to do research on it. … It is a rigorous science degree.”

Like many science degrees, despite having an emphasis in this particular field, the program seeks to graduate well-rounded scientists who will feel comfortable in a laboratory setting, and some feel this is lacking in today’s industry.

Because the program is part of a publicly funded university, the cannabis that students work with, much like at CSU Fort Collins, is actually hemp. It is legally required to have a THC content of under 0.3%. Lehmpuhl and his colleagues believe that this could change some time in the future due to the rate at which cannabis acceptance is growing.

“We’ve got a room set aside on campus already that’s outfitted with the necessary requirements even for a Schedule I license,” Lehmpuhl said. “If we’ve got researchers who are interested in pursuing that, we have the facilities to be able to apply for the Schedule I license.” 

Located in Pueblo, the University is steeped in the center of a huge cannabis growing community.

“In a lot of the early articles that came out, we were the Silicon Valley of cannabis for quite a while,” Lehmpuhl said. “A lot of people in the industry and the leaders in Pueblo County embraced it. As a result, we got inquiries fairly early on, which allowed us to go ahead and take this step toward getting the degree.”

While the cannabis biology and chemistry degree shows a lot of promise, it is still so young that it has yet to graduate a class. Some students will soon be moving to upper-division courses, but they are currently developing the program as they teach it.

“We knew that the degree itself, being as challenging as it is, it would be a couple of years before we would have students up to the level of wanting to take the cannabis physiology and growth class,” Lehmpuhl said. “We are building the plane as we’re flying it. … I think it will work out.”

Hayden Hawley can be reached at cannabis@collegian.com or on Twitter @hateonhawley.

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About the Contributors
Hayden Hawley
Hayden Hawley, Cannabis Director
Hayden Hawley is the cannabis director for The Rocky Mountain Collegian. He is a fourth-year journalism major from El Cajon, California. He is also minoring in film studies and history. This is his first year working with The Collegian Hawley hopes that through the cannabis section he can help remove the taboo surrounding the cannabis industry and promote safe and informed cannabis use throughout the Colorado State University campus. He strives to provide honest and unbiased content that reports both on the joys of cannabis as well as its ever-growing social and environmental impacts. In his spare time, Hawley can be found doom-scrolling Twitter or watching A24 movies. His favorite way to enjoy cannabis is a bowl of freshly ground indica in a pipe or joint accompanied by a cold LaCroix and a box of Cheez-Its (not sponsored). Hawley has been interested in writing for his entire life. He enjoys baseball and birdwatching with his girlfriend. Before entering CSU, he was involved in standup and improv comedy, and he now hopes to continue writing for whoever wants to pay him after college ends. His experience of directing a section for The Collegian thus far has been rewarding and gratifying.
Trin Bonner
Trin Bonner, Illustration Director
Trin Bonner is the illustration director for The Collegian newspaper. This will be her third year in this position, and she loves being a part of the creative and amazing design team at The Collegian. As the illustration director, Bonner provides creative insight and ideas that bring the newspaper the best graphics and illustrations possible. She loves working with artists to develop fun and unique illustrations every week for the readers. Bonner is a fourth-year at Colorado State University studying electronic arts. She loves illustrating and comic making and has recently found enjoyment in experimental video, pottery and graphic design. Outside of illustration and electronic art, Bonner spends her free time crocheting and bead making. She is usually working on a blanket or making jewelry when she is not drawing, illustrating or brainstorming.

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