NMU conference spotlights cannabis industry
MARQUETTE — With marijuana legal in Michigan for medicinal and recreational use, the relatively new cannabis industry continues to be one that requires open dialogue as it develops.
To showcase how it develops and to foster discussion about cannabis-related topics, Northern Michigan University on Tuesday hosted the Great Lakes Cannabis Education Conference at the Northern Center. NMU hosted the first such conference in 2022.
Medicinal plant chemistry at NMU was the first four-year undergraduate degree of its kind designed to prepare students for working in emerging industries related to the subject. Required courses include general chemistry, organic chemistry, and gas and liquid chromatography, among others.
However, once students enter the industry, they face many variables.
One of the presentations at the day-long conference was “Boom, Bust and the Next Frontier: Market Insights to Michigan’s Cannabis Industry as it Approaches Four Years in Business.” The panelists were Corinne Bodeman, an NMU professor of entrepreneurship; Douglas Mains, a partner with the Honigman LLP law firm; and Carol Johnson, dean of the College of Business at NMU.
“Look at where we are right now in Marquette County,” Bodeman said. “For 60,000 people, we have maybe 15 dispensaries, and one of the statistics — 30 to 50 percent consume cannabis — yet there’s only about eight grocery stores, and all 60,000 of us eat.
“So, we are seeing a plethora of dispensaries.”
However, she indicated this situation might plateau.
“What’s going to be plateauing factor is the differentiator for everyone to their client,” Bodeman said. “In other words, what are you
going to offer as a dispensary that is going to make a difference to get John Doe into your facility?”
Mains called himself a “free market guy,” noting it benefits the consumer because competition lowers prices.
“We probably have been a little oversaturated, especially on the retail side,” he said of the cannabis industry.
So, Mains anticipates some culling or “bloodletting” of these businesses.
“I think ultimately that’s probably good for the health of the industry going forward, and I do think we will see some consolidation,” Mains said. “We’re basically going to see, I think, the people who were kind of smart and strategic in terms of their advancement.”
He also believes the cannabis market eventually will regulate itself.
“How do we ride the wave for right now so when we’re on the other side, we’re in a better, stronger position?” Mains asked.
Johnson said there is “enormous potential” with the “fastest-growing industry in the U.S.”
“We’re expecting the cannabis industry to reach $72 billion annually by 2030,” Johnson said.
However, she believes the government is watching the industry and looking at this potential regarding tax revenue.
“I think we have to be very strategic when it comes to a business model and a business plan,” said Johnson, who pointed out that investment and paying attention to customers’ consumption needs are crucial.
“I think it’s important to note bricks-and-mortar is expensive,” she said “Unused inventory is expensive.”
The business, she said, is in its infancy.
“We don’t have a history with which to use some of the ‘what’s happened in the past?'” she said. “It almost feels as though this is an industry we’re tiptoeing through, trying to do the best we can, and there’s not a lot to help us.”
Johnson suggested looking at other industries and drawing parallels, and considering factors such as the cost of electricity and land use.
Mains mentioned the importance of blending two aspects of the industry: growing “great weed” and seeking out a business opportunity.
Mains told the students in attendance, “You’re getting that multi-disciplinary education right now, where you’re understanding the industry and what goes into it, but you’re also getting that business background, and I think that’s always going to be incredibly valuable to licensed businesses out there — that you’re bringing both.”
Cannabis certificates offered
Through a partnership with Green Flower, based in Ventura, California, iNMU has started a Cannabis Compliance and Risk Management program.
Daniel Kalef, vice president of higher education at Green Flower, told The Mining Journal in a telephone interview that the company works with NMU in offering four non-credit continuing education certificate programs, all related to the cannabis industry: business in cannabis, agriculture and horticulture, compliance and risk management, and health care and medicine.
Kalef said Green Flower works with NMU to prepare proper curricula, plus it aids in teaching as well as marketing and recruiting students. Each program is composed of three eight-week online courses, so it takes six months to complete the program.
He said instructors guide the courses
“It’s really, really flexible,” Kalef said. “Mostly, it’s working adults that are taking these programs. The reason that they thought this partnership and offering these programs would be really valuable is they had so many people inquire about that chemistry degree.”
He pointed out that many people aren’t looking for a full degree or cannot come to campus.
“Offering alternatives where they could still learn about the industry was really important to them, and it’s turned out great for students as well,” Kalef said.
He said the business and agriculture/horticulture programs are designed for getting into the industry.
In fact, he called the business certificate a “mini-master” of business administration degree in cannabis — from seed to sale. The horticulture/agriculture program, on the other hand, focuses on growing the plants.
The compliance/risk management certificate, Kalef said, is a little bit of both.
The program is great for lawyers, accountants and consultants to help people in the industry, as well as people who are running cannabis companies who need to be updated in these areas.
The health care/medicine program, he said, was created for people in those industries.
“We get doctors and nurses and therapists who take that program so they can really better understand how cannabis works with human biology and the endocannabinoid system within the human body,” Kalef said.
On the retail side, some people who take the program want to become knowledgeable to help people who come into a dispensary with chronic pain or other medical problem, he said.
“There’s lot of jobs available,” said Kalef, who noted that Green Flower has an employer network of people wanting to hire people with certain credentials.
“We give them a digital credential,” Kalef said. “A digital badge, if you will, is something that shows what you learned.”
Registration is open now, with classes to begin the first week of May.