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How Michigan colleges work around federal ban to teach pot

Melanie Combs was driving in southern California on vacation in 2018 when her eyes widened at the sight of a billboard advertising marijuana.

The sign not only caught her eye, but it showed the Lake Orion teen — then 18 — that attitudes about marijuana were changing. Maybe, she recalled, she could make a career out of pot.

“I saw how California’s cannabis industry was prevailing, and I knew that’s where we are heading, as a nation, let alone Michigan,” Combs said.

When Combs returned home, she scrolled through Facebook and noticed an ad for Northern Michigan University’s cannabis degree program, the first of its kind in the nation.

It seemed like a sign. Her parents were another story.

“They were not very supportive of it as a whole,” said Combs, now 23, who says she has long had a “personal interest” in marijuana. “However, once they saw that it could be a successful career path, they never turned back and have always been supportive of me.”

Three years after recreational marijuana became legal, pot has grown to a $2 billion annual industry in Michigan, employing some 32,000 workers and becoming the nation’s fourth-largest marijuana market.

Last year, jobs increased 33 percent in Michigan — and universities are rushing to supply the industry with workers like Combs. Northern led the way in 2017 with a  Cannabis Studies program that offers bachelor degrees, followed in 2019 by Lake Superior State University. [Read more at Bridge Michigan]

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