Beal University is offering Maine's first full cannabis science program.
In this Nov. 17, 2020, file photo, cannabis plants grow under special lights at a manufacturing facility in Auburn. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A new degree program at Beal University in Bangor aims to capitalize on one of Maine’s burgeoning industries: cannabis.

Beal’s new cannabis and medical plant sciences program, which will offer associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, is the first of its kind in Maine. It began enrolling students this past spring, and its first classes will begin this upcoming spring.

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Beal officials hope the new degree program will help place students into careers in a growing and lucrative industry. In 2020, Maine’s medical marijuana industry generated $266 million in sales, according to Maine Revenue Services, surpassing Maine’s longtime leading crops like blueberries and potatoes. In 2021, the state’s brand-new recreational market generated a total of $81 million in gross sales. The market has already seen more sales so far this year than in all of last year, according to the state’s Office of Cannabis Policy.

Graduates from cannabis degree or certificate programs can expect to start in jobs in the $40,000 to $60,000 per year range, according to the website CBD Oracle.

“We’re all about putting students into programs that they can get jobs from, so it just made sense to create these programs and give another opportunity for students to get employment,” Beal University Chief Operating Officer Stephen Villett said.

Sarah Taylor is building from the ground up Maine's first cannabis science program at Beal University.
Sarah Taylor is the head of Beal University’s new cannabis and medical plant sciences program. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Taylor

This summer, Beal hired a faculty member, Sarah Taylor, to design and run the program, which will be held entirely online and is open to students anywhere in the country — though most current enrollees are from Maine.

Taylor, who is based in Virginia, comes from a plant sciences background, with a heavy focus on regulatory compliance and quality control in crops like corn and soybeans as well as cannabis. She’s building the curriculum for Beal’s program from the ground up.

“In most other sciences, there’s established textbooks, established curriculum. Here, it’s all brand new. It’s all wide open,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting to be building something like this.”

While other Maine colleges and universities offer classes in cannabis science, including a once-a-year Introduction to Cannabis Cultivation and Science course at the University of Maine, only Beal offers a full degree program with multiple courses. There are other cannabis degree programs at schools across the country, but Taylor said she hopes to have Beal’s program stand apart from the others for its emphasis on the regulatory and safety aspects of the cannabis industry.

“The science part of it, the actual growing of cannabis — that’s the easy part,” Taylor said. “What is difficult and what is far less accessible for most people is how all the regulations work, and how complicated it all is from state to state. This industry is really young and still has many challenges and changes in front of it, and I want to make sure people are really well prepared for all of that.”

Taylor said the cannabis industry in Maine and around the country has already gone through huge changes in just the past few years as more and more states legalize it for medical and recreational use, and proper education and training in the area have struggled to catch up.

“It’s definitely a new frontier, and there’s a lot of room for growth,” she said. “I don’t want to create Pot University, where you just learn how to grow weed. Anybody can do that. I want to train people to be professionals in the field.”

For more information on Beal’s cannabis program, visit beal.edu.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.