Canna Cum Laude: CCSF Offers Pot Degree

The City College of San Francisco now offers what it says is the nation’s first cannabis AA.

At long last, cannabis has made the leap from being a reason to cut class to becoming a subject of serious study.

In news that would make Jeff Spicoli smile, City College of San Francisco recently announced the nation’s first weed degree. More specifically, starting next spring, interested students will be able to earn credits towards an associate of arts degree by taking courses like “Introduction to Cannabis” and “Psychology of Psychoactive Drugs.”

Unlike incubators designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs learn the ropes of the industry, the curriculum offered by CCSF falls under the auspices of the school’s Behavioral Sciences department.

“In the behavioral sciences,” explains Jennifer Dawgert-Carlin, chair of the department at CCSF, “we look at humans and non-human animals and their behavior in the social world. That means we’re looking at cannabis as a way to understand things like policing and the disproportionate impacts of social policies. We want to understand cannabis in terms of its role in revolution, in popular culture, in history, in our geological records, and in self-identity.”

Practically speaking, the degree will require students to complete a trio of three-unit classes centered on cannabis, in addition to other elective courses. Though “Psychology of Psychoactive Drugs” previously existed at CCSF, the other two classes are entirely new creations. “Introduction to Cannabis” will explore weed from a sociological perspective, while “Anthropology of Cannabis” was designed, in part, to help students decenter the United States in their understanding of cannabis.

For Dawgert-Carlin, one hope is that this new degree will attract students who previously tried to study the behavioral sciences but felt it wasn’t meant to be.

“We’re imagining our students as people who perhaps took some classes in behavioral sciences but never found their way,” she explains. “We’re also linking with students who may have been incarcerated as a result of the war on drugs. These are individuals who have their own expertise around some of the topics that we’re talking about and this degree could be really well-suited to them.”

Dawgert-Carlin also sees the degree as a viable path forward for those looking to channel interest in social justice, anti-racism, or economic justice into action.

Sadly, there is presently no four-year equivalent degree available, which means students who complete CCSF’s coursework will need to find a different focus when transferring. Regardless, Dawgert-Carlin points to burgeoning cannabis-related programs at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego, and UCLA as reasons to hope that such majors may one day be offered.

In the interim, she is eager to credit the faculty responsible for shaping CCSF’s new cannabis curriculum.

“Community college instructors don’t always get credit for being the incredible academics they are,” Dawgert-Carlin said. “Dr. Karin Hu, who wrote our psychoactive drug course, did her PhD work at Johns Hopkins and her postdoc at Stanford. These are amazing academics who choose to work at City College because they believe in the community college system and in the population that we serve.”

It’s important to focus on the fact that the nation’s first cannabis degree is being offered by a community college given access as a fundamental right is an issue relevant to both cannabis and education.

For an example within the legal cannabis industry, look no further than the logjam of equity applicants in San Francisco still awaiting their shot at a license. By contrast, any resident of California will be eligible to earn CCSF’s new cannabis degree. For those living in San Francisco, the Free City program means tuition will be covered too.

“Access is key,” agreed Dawgert-Carlin. “We talk a lot in the department about removing barriers to education. Those barriers can be systemic and then there are barriers in terms of how students experience the classroom environment.”

With CCSF’s campus closed for the indefinite future owing to the pandemic, it’s thus all the more important  that all of the coursework for this degree can be completed online. In fact, even after things have opened back up, the option to complete the degree remotely will continue to be available.

Interested students are advised to contact CCSF counselors to determine if any credits they already have may apply to the degree’s electives requirement. Dawgert-Carlin also notes that while the three cannabis classes will not be available until Spring 2021, students can work to complete the degree’s general education credits starting this fall.

The next step? Dawgert-Carlin said it includes continuing to nudge more academic institutions to embrace cannabis studies as a viable and important area field. Simultaneously, she’s also excited about where CCSF’s offerings may go from here.

“We have a vision statement in our department,” she said, “and it includes a requirement that the department chair, which would be me, shall always be developing programs and direction for the department that’s looking at what is going on in the larger world. We need to stay relevant. Again, I’m just incredibly fortunate to have such amazing faculty. Hopefully, we can continue to develop courses like this.”

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