Summer Kriegshauser is one of 150 students in the inaugural class of the University of Maryland, Baltimore's Master of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics, the first graduate program of its type in the country.
This will be Kriegshauser's second master's degree and she hopes it will offer her a chance to change careers.
"I didn't want to quit my really great job and work at a dispensary making $12 to $14 an hour," says Kriegshauser, who is 40. "I really wanted a scientific basis for learning the properties of cannabis — all the cannabinoids and how they interact with the body. I wanted to learn about dosing. I wanted to learn about all the ailments and how cannabis is used within a medical treatment plan, and I just wasn't finding that anywhere," she adds.
The program stands largely alone: Some universities offer one-off classes on marijuana and two have created undergraduate degrees in medicinal plant chemistry, but none have yet gone as far as Maryland.
Stretched over two years and conducted almost exclusively online, the program launched as an increasing number of jurisdictions across the country legalize pot — primarily for medical uses, but in some places recreational, as well.
As of mid-October, nearly three dozen states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands had legalized medical cannabis, creating an ever-expanding universe of opportunities for people looking to grow, process, recommend and sell the drug to patients. And given how quickly attitudes and laws on cannabis are shifting, those opportunities are expected to keep expanding.
But even as the industry has quickly grown, expertise has remained largely informal. And for people looking to change careers, like Kriegshauser, getting into the legal cannabis field can seem risky, with the likely job options hard to come by.
The University of Maryland credits the overwhelming response to its graduate program to that desire for more information and opportunity. More than 500 hopefuls applied for what was supposed to be a class of 50, prompting the university to increase the size of the inaugural class threefold. And the class is geographically diverse, coming from 32 states and D.C., plus Hong Kong and Australia.
The students take four required core courses — including one on the history of medical weed and culture, and two basic science classes. Students then choose between a number of electives.
Leah Sera, a pharmacist and the program's director, says officials at the university see a parallel trend. More and more of their graduates were entering a professional world where cannabis is seen as an alternative medicine for any number of ailments, and one that more patients are curious about.
"There have been a number of studies, primarily with health professionals, indicating that there is an educational gap related to medical cannabis — that health professionals want more education because patients are coming to them with questions about cannabis and therapeutic uses," Sera says.
Pharmacist Staci Gruber teaches at Harvard Medical School and is leading one of the country's most ambitious research projects on medical marijuana at McLean Hospital in Boston.
She says Maryland's program is proof that as the drug becomes ever more present among patients, more research on its effects will be needed.
"I know some say, 'Oh, it's just a moneymaker for the institution,' but it's because people are asking for it," she says. "People are interested in learning more and knowing more, so [Maryland's program] underscores the need to have more data."
That's the challenge for an academic program on cannabis; the drug remains largely illegal under federal law, which has hampered its study over the years and means very little concrete research exists for students to dig into. But as that changes, Sera says, the program will continue to evolve.
And she expects that students will see immediate opportunities in the rapidly expanding industry once they graduate.
There remains plenty of uncertainty, of course, and as the recreational use of weed is made legal in more places, established medical cannabis programs, and their associated jobs, may dwindle. But Summer Kriegshauser says making the leap into Maryland's program made sense for her — and she bets it will pay off.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And finally today, Emma Watson of "Harry Potter" and "Beauty And The Beast" fame made headlines this week, and not because she was promoting her latest film. She made news because of two simple words - self-partnered. Watson used that term in an interview with British Vogue. The interviewer had asked Emma Watson about her relationship status, and this is what she said.
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EMMA WATSON: I never believed the whole I'm-happy-single spiel. I was like, this is spiel. It took me a long time, but I'm very happy. I call it being self-partnered.
MARTIN: Since the release of the article and the video, there have been a number of opinion pieces written about Watson's use of the term. And, of course, some poked fun, but many others applaud it. We wanted to learn more about the term and the response to it, so we've called on Lisa Bonos. She writes about dating and relationships for The Washington Post. And she's with us once again in our studios in Washington, D.C. Lisa Bonos, welcome back. Thanks for joining us once again.
LISA BONOS: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: All right. So where do you stand on self-partnered?
BONOS: I like it. I think it acknowledges that every person has a relationship with themselves. And that can be good. It can be just as fulfilling as a relationship with somebody else or more fulfilling.
MARTIN: And you wrote about the fact that, first of all, a lot of people agree with you. They think it's a very good term. It's dignified. It, you know, it's complete. But a lot of other people were throwing shade. Why do you think it is that it caused such a splash?
BONOS: People have been trying to find alternatives to single for a very long time. I remember five years ago going to an event in D.C. looking at why are so many Washingtonians single that don't want to be, and a dating coach there suggested that people call themselves available instead of single, which didn't strike me as quite right. He might have liked that term. To me...
MARTIN: It made you feel creepy. It was creepy.
BONOS: Well, crepy and desperate. Like, not everybody that's single is looking, right? So maybe they wouldn't be available. And, I mean, at The Washington Post, when I started writing about single life several years ago, we coined a term called solo-ish.
MARTIN: Solo-ish. What did solo-ish mean?
BONOS: Solo-ish means that you're not married, but that there are other people in your life that may be very fulfilling relationships - with family, friends, co-workers, that your life is your own but you share it with other people, too.
MARTIN: And the people who were throwing shade, what do you think that was about?
BONOS: As much progress that we've - as we've made to accepting different lifestyles, still, the thought of a woman who's not in a relationship and is happy without one is threatening or different.
MARTIN: So do you think, in part, it has to do with the fact that she's a young woman? Because do men have a similar dilemma around how they describe themselves? I can't...
BONOS: I think it's more that there's more stigma around saying that you're single if you're a woman. A man might just say like, yeah, I'm single. But there's more expectation on women to be partnered off.
MARTIN: You also wrote - and you wrote a piece about this. And you said that the term speaks to a larger trend of how to - I don't know how to pronounce this - sologamy?
BONOS: Yeah. This been this solo wedding or self-marriage trend that's been going on for several years all over the world - Japan, Korea, Italy. You can poke fun at this. But sometimes these are women - usually women wearing wedding dresses, throwing parties for all their friends and family because they want to celebrate their lives without a traditional wedding involved.
MARTIN: Traditional wedding dresses aren't that great. I just have to mention that there's lots of great outfits out there that you can wear at a party. I'm just saying.
BONOS: You don't have to wear a white dress.
MARTIN: You don't have to wear a white dress that makes it hard to...
BONOS: One of these women that did this wore, like, a fantastic purple dress.
MARTIN: Well, see, there you go. But beyond that, what - I guess the bigger question is, what's so terrible about single? I mean, is it that every generation wants its own language? Or what's so terrible about the term single? Is there a feeling that it's just dusty and needs to go away, or is there some connotation to it? What's wrong with single?
BONOS: I think it just doesn't convey the richness of a single person's life always. Single implies that maybe you're lacking. You're looking for that partner, that double. You know, you look at pop music right now. Who is one of the biggest stars? Lizzo - one of her most famous songs about being her own soulmate. And Ariana Grande singing about being in a relationship with herself and how fulfilling that is. So I think it's both the fact that single doesn't quite fit how people feel about themselves and this recognition that the relationship with yourself is very important and just as important as a relationship with other people.
MARTIN: That's Lisa Bonos. She writes about dating and relationships for The Washington Post. And she wrote about self-partnered. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us once again.
BONOS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.