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CHICAGO — A state of the art greenhouse sits on the campus of Olive Harvey College in Pullman on the precipice of a unique feat.

The greenhouse will help 140 students learn how to grow and maintain hemp plants as a part of a certificate program that next year, will become the first such associate degree program at any community college in the state of Illinois.

The degree will be called ‘Applied Cannabis Studies’ and is designed to give students a leg up on breaking into the cannabis industry. Courses in the degree include cannabis and the law, hemp horticulture, basic chemistry and general botany.

“Our students will have an opportunity to have a hands-on experience with our hemp plants,” said Dr. Kimberly Hollingsworth, Olive Harvey College President. “Cultivation, how to run your own dispensary. The good thing about this new degree is it’s science based.”

Hollingsworth said the degree can help lead students into high-paying careers in the cannabis field as cannabis consultants, extraction technicians, grow masters and dispensary operators.

Torrence Jackson is a current student in the certificate program at Olive Harvey College where the hours he has accumulated will roll over into the 61-credit degree.

“I want to own a cannabis dispensary,” Jackson said. “I also want to work with dispensaries to help them get their products because I’m also a supply chain major.”

Since recreational marijuana became legalized in Illinois, it has turned into a billion-dollar-a-year industry. But over the past two years, minorities have been largely excluded from the first round of growing and dispensary licenses issued by the state of Illinois.

The first predominantly Black-owned licensed craft dispensary just opened in Rockford last week. Named ‘Star Buds,’ the operation took two years to be approved.

Everett Berry was also one of those minority entrepreneurs who struggled to break into the cannabis industry. Berry now owns the ‘Mias Heart Hemp Collective’ and is getting ready to sell his products when the ‘Bronzeville Smoke Shop’ opens on East 47th Street Nov. 1.

“We are about to erect a brand-new state of the art manufacturing hemp plant in the 21st ward,” Berry said. “We’re looking to provide at least 200 positions.”

In July, Illinois issued nearly 150 new cannabis retail licenses. Of those, 41% are majority Black owned and just 4% are Latino owned.

“We know that inequity exists,” Dr. Hollingsworth said. “This [degree] gives our students a leg up in that application process.”

After completing the associate degree program, students can either enter straight into the industry, or pursue other STEM-related degrees at a four-year university.