MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Northern Michigan University hosted the inaugural Great Lakes Cannabis Education Conference at the Northern Center on Tuesday.

The Great Lakes Cannabis Education Conference is the first-of-its-kind. Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan in November 2018, the cannabis industry has taken off across the state.

“It’s really an education-based conference. We intend that it’s going to last for many years, many more annual conferences of this type,” said Steve VandenAvond, NMU’s vice president for extended learning and community engagement. “It’s really about getting people together to talk about this really complex plant that’s having a lot of really significant impacts, some of them positive, some of them negative, on people and communities.”

NMU offered the nation’s first four-year degree undergraduate program that relates to medicinal plant production, analysis, and distribution. The university has since added to its programs relating to cannabis education.

“It’s a brilliant program, has been wildly popular among students around the country and around the world. We get students internationally who come for this program. That was followed up by a program out of our College of Technology and Occupational Sciences that focuses on indoor agriculture. It has a relationship to cannabis and growing cannabis indoors,” said VandenAvond.

“And the third is a certificate that will probably soon be an associate’s degree next week in cannabis operations and that teaches folks how to work at sort of the retail level in terms of an understanding of plants and products and how to legally interact with customers about cannabis products.”

One of those students who moved across the country to attend NMU’s medicinal plant chemistry program is Derek Baluyut.

“This program is important for the entering workforce because there [are] people retiring, there [are] people entering the workforce and things are changing. I think without programs like this we’re going to be stuck looking at the past,” said Baluyut. “With all these news brains and these new ideas, they’re just important for developing new things and normalizing the fact that it’s not the devil’s lettuce, it’s just a plant and it has medicinal benefits. I think in this program we don’t only look at cannabis we look at all kinds of plants with potential medicinal benefits.”

Industry leaders shared their perspectives on how to succeed, along with ideas for how universities can contribute to workforce needs by providing relevant education.