CSU Pueblo offers cannabis biology and chemistry degree

Hayden Hawley

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.


“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.