A career in the medical marijuana industry might only be a few short classes away.

The University of the Sciences last week announced three new online certificate programs on weed that expand short-term education options for medical providers, business leaders, and retail associates looking to join the rapidly growing industry.

Andrew Peterson, the executive director of the schools’ Substance Use Disorders Institute, said the certificates, which start classes in October, are an expansion of the Master’s in Business Administration program in medical cannabis that the university introduced last summer. “When we launched the MBA program, we had people say, ‘I don’t want a full degree yet, is there another option?‘”

To solve that problem, Peterson and his team launched two graduate-level certificates, one for healthcare professionals on the market and therapeutic potential of cannabis and another for those with a business background interested in applying it to the medical cannabis industry. While both programs require an undergraduate degree to enroll, they offer an alternative to the MBA for those who have less time or ability to afford that option.

Peterson also wanted to make the medical marijuana industry more accessible to those without an undergraduate education, which is why the third of the three new certificates doesn’t require a degree to enroll—an option he says is the first of its kind.

Tailored towards those with entry-level jobs in the industry, this undergraduate certificate focuses on enabling students to “communicate health information effectively to patients who are coming into dispensaries.” The courses in this program also cover introductions to sales and marketing regulations in the industry, as well as the supply chain “from seed to sale,” said Peterson.

All three of the new certificates are comprised of four eight-week courses that can be completed over a 32-week period. Additionally, each program consists of 12 credits, which are transferable to a degree program at the university should students choose to continue their education after finishing the four required courses.

The certificates are cheaper than the MBA, too. For this upcoming fall semester, those enrolled for the MBA will have to pay $1,000 per credit, whereas those in the graduate certificates pay only $750 per credit, or $9,000 total. The cost per credit for the undergraduate certificate is the same as that of an undergraduate degree, at $450 per credit, or $5,400 total.

USciences also offers a four-hour certification course for pharmacists and dispensaries on clinical considerations in medical marijuana, which Peterson says has maintained enrollment of 30 to 50 students per course throughout the pandemic.

Medical marijuana is one of the few industries that’s booming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nate Wardle, the press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, reported that total sales for the program nufrom its 2018 inception were $700 million until February. The program’s sales had doubled by August this year, increasing from to $1.32 billion. Nationwide sales spiked in mid-March during the first shutdowns of the pandemic as several states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, declared dispensaries essential businesses.

There are currently 89 operational dispensaries throughout the state, with 25 of those in the Philadelphia region, Wardle wrote in an email. From March 2018 to August 2020, the number of patients registered to receive medical marijuana increased from around 21,000 to 360,000. Providers went from 800 to 2,000 during the same period.

Peterson sees those trends as evidence of a growing sector that will continue to need an educated workforce. “As this market continues to blossom, people are going to be looking for more and more qualified individuals,” he said.

Other administrators agree. Stockton University near Atlantic City offers a minor in cannabis studies while Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia offers a graduate certificate in cannabis medicine for health professionals.

Mike Badey, CEO of Keystone Shops which has dispensaries in Devon, King of Prussia and South Philadelphia, agrees. “I see every facet of the cannabis industry growing over the next few decades,” he said, pointing to horticultural science, clinical relevance, and the retail environment as a few examples. “All ships float with a rising tide.”

He finds the option for healthcare professionals especially exciting, as he feels that more medical research will continue to legitimize physician use of cannabis for a variety of health conditions. Currently, the Department of Health approves medical marijuana for 23 conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and opioid use disorder.

Badey also thinks that while these certificates aren’t necessary for someone trying to enter the medical marijuana industry, they do create an advantage. “If you want to get directly into a management level or corporate position, a certification like that is definitely going to help your chances.”

Peterson agrees, and thinks there are real benefits to offering industry-specific education on medical marijuana. “I consistently get inquiries from people all across the nation asking about educational resources,” he said. “More and more of the bigger providers and processors are looking to open new dispensaries, and they’re looking for qualified individuals.”