October 26, 2021

Cannabis class planned at SUNY Cortland soon

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Greg Phalen, the chair of SUNY Cortland’s chemistry department, holds a book Tuesday that will be used in his class on cannabis starting in March. The course will teach students about cannabis, its uses and legal and social issues surrounding it.

Talking about cannabis, the base plant for marijuana and hemp, shouldn’t be shunned in a college setting, said Greg Phelan, chairman of SUNY Cortland’s chemistry department — so he plans to offer a class on it in March.

“This topic is not always openly discussed because people are concerned that, as a federally controlled material, it should be talked about quietly or behind closed doors,” he said. “There’s really no need for that.”

To address this stigma and get students to learn more about the plant and its uses, Phelan will offer students a one-credit, online course on cannabis starting March 23. The course, titled “Chemistry, Cannabis and Society,” will teach students what cannabis is, what materials or products can be produced from cannabis and legal and social issues surrounding the plant, Phelan said.

Pre-requisites won’t be needed and the course will cover a wide variety of areas that will make it interesting to students curious about different aspects of the plant, he said.

“It’s not a science class, per se,” Phelan said. “This is much more of a first course in this area to help people decide, is this something I want to pursue and that I want to learn more about.”

The process of how hemp is extracted to make cannabidiol, or CBD, an oil that is extracted from cannabis, will also be explored, he said.

It will also appeal to students who are interested in cannabis from a political or economic aspect as well.

Phelan said he was inspired to create the course from seeing other universities across the country that offer chemistry courses on cannabis and how it helped get students engaged in chemistry.

The timing of the course—starting in late March — in relation to when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is expected to have its budget completed for the year is purely coincidental, Phelan said. Part of the governor’s budget includes legalizing recreational marijuana for adults 21 years old or older.

Hemp was legalized in 2018 as part of a federal farm bill that removed it from the United States Schedule I controlled substances list. The state, though, allowed for hemp research beginning in 2015.

The techniques students learn about CBD oil production is produced are the same used by local hemp-producing farmers at places like Main Street Farms in Cortland and Ithaca Organics in Dryden.

Robert “Bobcat” Bonagura, the co-owner of Main Street Farms, said having more college-educated people in growing hemp will benefit the industry.

“Having a background in cannabis will give them a leg up if this is something they want to do and give them a leg up when they are looking to get hired,” he said. “I think it will be a huge benefit.”

Bonagura said he, and Main Street Farms, did not start off producing hemp. Rather, he learned about producing hemp over time with his business partner, Allan Gandelman, who is now also president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.

Locally grown hemp, Bonagura said, is becoming an increasingly popular product for local farmers as people want their health products to be as local as their food.

“It’s a huge, growing industry and I think it’s growing to create a lot of jobs,” Bonagura said. “I think the more educated people we have joining that work force, the better quality products we’ll have.”

More than anything, Phelan hopes this course can serve as a starting point for students who may later think of going into the cannabis field.

“I’m looking at this as a vehicle to help discuss fundamental parts of science that if someone was really interested, they could come back to my department,” and take more in-depth scientific classes, Phelan said.