UW-Platteville cannabis program is growing as legal status in Wisconsin remains hazy

The status of legal cannabis in Wisconsin, whether for recreational or medicinal use, remains up in the air, but that hasn’t stopped UW-Platteville’s cannabis program from growing.

This legislative session, there have been both successes and setbacks for proponents of legal weed in the state. In Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed 2021-23 budget, he pushed for legal recreational cannabis but that provision was struck by Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee.

In November, a bipartisan group of representatives introduced a bill that would set the fines for possessing up to half an ounce of cannabis at a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $250 — much lower than the current fine of $1,000. But this bill, while lowering fines for the misdemeanor charge in much of the state, would have raised the possible fines for people in the city of Madison and Milwaukee County, which had both previously greatly reduced the fine amounts.

Then last month, Republicans passed a bill that increased the penalties for people who are caught in possession of THC resin. Democrat Melissa Agard (D-Madison) attempted to amend that bill in a way that would have legalized recreational use, but that was also killed by Republicans.

Last year, Agard went to a cannabis dispensary just across the border in South Beloit, Ill. to introduce a bill that would fully legalize recreational use for people over 21. And last week, Republicans reintroduced a bill that would create a limited medical cannabis program in the state — though Democrats said the proposal is too restrictive.

Meanwhile, as Wisconsin’s debate on the issue goes back and forth, the neighboring states of Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota all have some sort of legal cannabis program.

While all this action has been occurring, UW-Platteville has had a certificate program in its Continuing Education Institute for helping people learn about the cannabis industry since 2020. The program is run in partnership with Green Flower, a cannabis education company that works with more than a dozen universities across the country.

So far, a couple hundred students have gone through the program, with about 30 in each class, according to Daniel Kalef, Green Flower’s vice president of higher education. Students can specialize in one of four programs — health care and medicine, law and policy, business or agriculture.

“Ultimately, I certainly hope the laws change somewhat in the state,” Kalef says. “I always thought the folks at UW-P were really visionary. They were doing this because they wanted to be ahead of the curve when it did become legal. The foothold they’ve created will be really hard for anyone to catch up to when it does become legal, by the state or federally.”

The program has continued to grow since its inception, attracting students from across the country — even if the jobs the program is training for are, for the most part, not yet in Wisconsin.

“We’re drawing from not just Wisconsin, we’re drawing from folks in Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa,” Kalef says. “It’s been everything I’d hoped it would be. It hasn’t slowed down. It’s a testament to the industry itself and the popularity. Everywhere, maybe not Wisconsin just yet, the industry is going like crazy. It’s the fastest growing job market in the country. People hear that, whether you’re in Wisconsin or Illinois or California or Vermont, people are hearing about that.”

Kalef says agriculture is the most popular program and that many of the students work on legal hemp farms in Wisconsin and are hoping that someday in the future they’ll be able to transition into growing cannabis (both come from the same plant but legal hemp must remain below a certain level of THC). As part of the agriculture program, students undertake a course-length project in which they grow a plant that mirrors the behaviors of cannabis.

“The ag program makes up 60-70% of all students,” he says. “Those students can be involved in growing industrial hemp right now in WIsconsin. There are a lot of people hoping they can expand into cannabis and not just hemp. There are jobs to be had. I feel really good about the fact there are lots of people in Wisconsin who are able to stay in the state and get jobs.”

Kerie Wedige, executive director of the Continuing Education Institute, says that the certificates will help people improve their businesses whether or not they’re in Wisconsin.

“These individuals are going to come out with a good background and be able to go into the jobs and help businesses move forward,” she says.

For now, the leaders of the program are hoping Wisconsin’s cannabis laws will change someday soon, but in the meantime they’re happy to keep growing the state’s first cannabis education program.

“We had no idea what this would look like a year and a half ago,” Kalef says. “I had hoped there’d be some change in legality in 2021 so we all crossed our fingers and knew there was demand. To see that it’s grown so well and on par with many of our schools in legal states. That’s huge news to me. It’s been really exciting to see it continue to grow.”

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