Enrollment explodes in Northern New Mexico College's cannabis program

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Mateo Frazier expected Northern New Mexico College’s Cannabis Establishment Technician Course to grow over time.

But not in a matter of months.

Frazier, director of the college’s Arts, Film and Media Department, said he knew people would be interested in the eight-week certification course that started in March because of what he called its “provocative nature.”

 

He was happy 45 people took part in the initial course, but what he and others at the Española school are seeing for the summer and beyond blew his mind.

In the past week, the number of registrants for the summer program exploded, from 70 on April 19 to 130 as of Saturday. Frazier said the college also has received 600 inquiries from people wanting to know more about the course.

“We haven’t even pushed marketing,” said Frazier, who oversees the program. “It’s all been people who are just interested in it.”

The rapid growth of the program comes on the heels of Gov. Michele Lujan Grisham signing House Bill 2 into law, setting in motion the legalization of cannabis for adults 21 and over.

Rick Bailey, president of Northern New Mexico College, which has 1,238 students, said he is not surprised by the sudden surge, adding the college has worked for almost two years with SeedCrest, a state-based cannabis education provider, to develop a program that would eventually benefit from legalization.

The initial course has a broad focus: biology, history, the state’s medical cannabis program, addiction issues, industry ethics. With the passage of HB 2, Bailey said the school can explore expanding the program.

“The foundational elements of the education program were based on the current, existing medical cannabis industry,” Bailey said. “The focus was to help the workforce with education training that they needed not just for that industry but also to be of the greatest service to their communities.”


 

Shanon Jaramillo, owner and CEO of SeedCrest, said the passage of HB 2 opens the doors to broader curricula for people interested in the industry. But the first step in developing a program is to provide interested applicants with the knowledge and understanding of regulations and laws before moving to the next phase. The Cannabis Establishment Technician Course will be the foundation for that, she added.

Jaramillo also sees how the program might create an enrollment boom for the college.

“SeedCrest is prepared to help Northern through the growing pains,” Jaramillo said. “It’s more like Northern that is really having to stop and say, ‘Wait a minute. We might double our student body within the next year or two here around this one class, let alone the horticulture or even a manufacturing [track]. What do we do then?’ We’re preparing, both SeedCrest and the school, for high-level talks so that we can keep pace with demand.”

Bailey said the school already is in discussions about expanding into other certificate and degree programs, which could include courses in business, horticulture and holistic medicine. Those might happen within the next year or two, and he foresees potential partnerships with other state institutions that would be better equipped to provide a more robust education in certain fields for students.

He declined to mention any schools, but Jaramillo said New Mexico State University would be a natural fit, since it is an agricultural school.

“What Northern needs to do is look at how the industry will mature and make sure the expansion we embrace and the moves we make will complement the natural, organic growth in the state,” Bailey said.

Frazier, who said he is a licensed hemp farmer, indicated course expansion could happen for the 2021-22 school year, but expects it more likely will be summer or fall 2022. He added that the possibilities of creating partnerships with businesses could help determine the path the college takes to help take advantage of market demands.

He pointed out there are CBD colas and seltzers already on the market, and the alcohol industry is preparing to make a splash with cannabis-infused drinks.

“We’re really letting the market drive what we could like to offer, and by the market, I mean student interest,” Frazier said. “There is so much room for that. The educational space around this industry is wide open. The hard science stuff is really limitless, especially in the study of [the] endocannabinoid system. There’s some really cool stuff happening in Israel and Canada and around the United States, but that is a whole other level that we aspire to way down the road.

“What we are looking at right now is how to get those people who are focused in this industry.”

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