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WMU will offer a class in cannabis marketing next semester

Glass jars filled with marijuana line a shelf at a dispensary in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Oct. 14, 2022.
Stephen Groves
Jars of marijuana line a shelf at a dispensary in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Oct. 14, 2022.

WMU professor Russell Zwanka said the new course fills a gap in the university’s food marketing curriculum.

This spring, students at Western Michigan University will study how to market products for the fast-growing cannabis industry.

The course will give students the background to be successful in the industry, said Russell Zwanka, director of the school's Food and Consumer Package Goods Marketing program and an associate professor of marketing.

Zwanka said the course will explain how to promote cannabis products containing THC - that is, the ones that will get you high - as well as cannabidiol, or CBD-based products, which don't get you high but may help treat certain medical conditions. Zwanka will also teach students about marketing hemp, a fiber derived from cannabis sativa plants with negligible THC content.

The history of THC-containing plants and their cousins; addressing stigma around marijuana use; and supply chain and distribution are among the topics expected to be covered in the course. Zwanka said the class will also explore the purported health benefits of consuming various cannabis products.

The class is full, capped at 28 students, with a waiting list. Zwanka said that’s because the cannabis industry is hot right now and not expected to slow down anytime soon. He said the industry has grown immensely in recent years.

"I think it’s a trend. It’s interest. If you live in Michigan, you have, I think at this point, we have 43 companies that qualify as a chain. You cannot not see a THC dispensary”, said Zwanka.

Zwanka said the cannabis industry is now the biggest competitor to the alcohol industry.

“The studies have shown that this next generation is choosing marijuana as a relaxation substance over alcohol and we expect that trend to continue through the next couple of generations”, Zwanka said.

The WMU professor said the class has already gotten the attention of some other groups.

“We have a lot of interest from KVCC (Kalamazoo Valley Community College). We are growing a relationship with them in regards to how they’re educating on cannabis marketing. So, we have a lot of interest from the Michigan retailers," said Zwanka.