Agriculture Professor Brandy Marron (left) and Terri Cummings, dean of business and technology, standing in the new aquaponics lab in the Danville Area Community College greenhouse.

DANVILLE — Danville Area Community College hopes that by offering a brand new and unique class in the fall, it can provide skilled workers to fill jobs in Illinois’ burgeoning cannabis industry.

Sustainability Instructor George Hickman has developed a class called Cultivation and Compliance, SUST 121, that will teach students how to grow marijuana but without actually bringing any cannabis on campus.

“The course introduces key concepts and protocols associated with medicinal plant growth and distribution in Illinois,” Hickman said.

“We’re not growing it on campus,” DACC President Stephen Nacco said of cannabis. “In terms of teaching, though, the program is a lot bigger than growing something. It’s about being in compliance with the law. It’s about how to legally handle it, transport it and grow it.”

In the campus greenhouse, students will grow plants that have the same growth requirements as marijuana, such as poinsettias and catnip.

In addition, the college will grow hemp on five acres south of the DACC campus with the guidance of Agriculture Instructor Brandy Marron and Horticulture Instructor Amanda Krabbe.

“Hemp seeds come from the cannabis sativa plant,” Hickman said. “Growing hemp is comparable to growing cannabis, so students will be acquiring the same skills with cultivating hemp as they would in growing marijuana.”

The difference with hemp, though, is that the plant doesn’t contain high levels of THC to produce a mind-altering drug. Hemp can be grown legally throughout Illinois, while growing marijuana is closely regulated.

“They will be growing hemp that has virtually no THC,” Nacco said. “Hemp is used in the textile industry.”

Hemp has a number of benefits and has been used in health foods, organic body care, clothing, construction materials, biofuels and plastic materials. The hemp-based CBD oil has a number of medicinal benefits.

“If we were to grow cannabis on the DACC campus — assuming the state gave us permission — the cost of security alone would be astronomical,” said Terri Cummings, dean of business and technology. “Growing marijuana at DACC also is unnecessary when we’re able to produce plants that have similar qualities to cannabis but aren’t illegal for us to grow.”

Beyond learning how to grow marijuana, the course also would teach students about biosecurity related to cannabis, inventory tracking and the legal aspects, such as Biotrack and compliance with the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s laws.

“We investigate topics on ethics and social dimensions of production and regulation,” Hickman said.

Among the 21 state-approved cultivation centers that are scattered throughout Illinois, Danville will soon be home to one of these on a 44-acre tract just west of the Danville Correctional Center, which would put the center less than two miles east of the DACC campus.

For students interested in pursuing a career as a cultivation technician, SUST 121 would be a building-block course for a certificate program that the Business and Technology Division is developing.

“Along with SUST 121, the certificate would include marketing, hemp production, legal studies and agriculture technology that may make use of DACC’s new aquaponics lab,” Cummings said.

“It will be a 24-hour credit certificate to be able to get a job at a cannabis cultivation center where it is grown for recreational and medicinal use,” Nacco said. “There is a tract of land that will become a cultivation center next to the prison. They will be growing it right up the street from the college.”

Jobs in the cannabis industry are really taking off, according to Hickman.

“If you go on Indeed and search ‘cannabis jobs’ for Illinois only, there are often 25-plus postings that were recently posted,” he said. “Most of these jobs are $35,000-plus starting, and some such as master grower, extract artist or acquisitions manager can be six figures.

“My program is focused on training people to enter the industry as cultivation agents, but quickly work their way up to master grower,” he said. “My graduating students will have a rare knowledge of both Biotrack and cultivation. It’s hard to find growers who understand the legal landscape.”

Illinois law allows residents to grow their own cannabis only if they’re medically cleared for marijuana use.

Some DACC students may serve as interns in assisting medical-marijuana patients in growing their five cannabis plants permitted under the law, Nacco said.

“In Illinois you’re not allowed to grow your own marijuana, but you can grow five plants if you are cleared for medical use,” he said. “The students could have an internship growing it privately for someone with medical needs.”

Students without a patient to assist will be required to grow a plant like catnip to prove they are competent in growing marijuana.

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