Looking at the medical benefits cannabis has and its growing popularity inspired CJ Mott to enroll in a master’s program for medical cannabis science and therapeutics.
“I see the medical possibilities and probabilities that are coming about,” she said.
Mott has been a registered nurse at Baptist Health Madisonville since 2014 when she graduated from Madisonville Community College with an associate degree in nursing. In 2015, she received her bachelor’s degree in from Murray State University.
Mott currently works on the medical-surgical orthopedic and COVID unit at the hospital.
She enrolled at the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Pharmacy in the fall of 2019 to obtain a Masters of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics. She said this is the first master’s program for medical cannabis in the United States.
“I am one of 150 students, and one of only two people chosen from Kentucky to participate in the inaugural cohort,” said Mott.
She said she hadn’t planned to go back to school after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in nursing, but a friend emailed her about the program and she decided to take a look.
“I thought, I’m going to look at that because it was something on the edge and forefront of medicine,” said Mott.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, 36 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island have approved medical marijuana/cannabis programs. Kentucky is not one of them.
Mott said she knew cannabis wasn’t legal in Kentucky when she applied for the program, but was optimistic that the state would join the others in legalizing medical cannabis at some point.
“I don’t know if Kentucky will anytime soon, but I am keeping my fingers crossed,” she said.
With over half of the states in the U.S. legalizing medical cannabis, Mott is hoping that having a degree in medical cannabis will help her stand out. She said she has been looking at jobs in states where cannabis is legal.
Mott said her ideal job would be as a cannabis consultant, educator and advocate. She has looked at jobs in Illinois and Florida, but she is not in any rush to leave Kentucky. If she does get a job in another state, she is hoping to end up back in Kentucky at some point.
“I want to be able to sit down and talk to someone about their illness or disease, symptoms, what is going on because cannabis is different for everybody,” she said.
Cannabis is a therapeutic process just like any other medical drug, so some patients may need a lower dose or a higher dose depending on how their body reacts to it, said Mott.
Cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the DEA website, Schedule 1 drugs, substances or chemicals are defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Mott said she could pull her textbooks out and list several different ways cannabis could be used medically — like in the treatment of cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Currently, the federal government considers cannabis illegal, but laws vary from state to state, she said. Mott said more research needs to be done on cannabis, but the scheduling has to be changed first.
“They are going to have to put it lower on the schedule or take in off the drug schedule completely,” said Mott.
House Bill 136 was introduced into the Kentucky state legislature in the fall of 2019, but because of COVID-19, it got pushed back and reintroduced in Jan. 2021, according to the Kentucky General Assembly.
The bill would allow medical marijuana to become legal in the state, but mandate heavy oversight on all parties involved, like doctors, patients, dispensaries and caregivers, according to the assembly website. Producers and sellers would have to be certified by the state and caps set on the THC level of the marijuana.
Mott said as the inaugural cohort, the university was originally going to choose 25 applicants because they were not sure how much interest there would be. The program had over 500 applicants from 33 states and three different countries.
She said the only other person chosen from Kentucky to participate in the program lives in Louisville.
The program was set up to be online with students driving to campus once a semester for a day or a weekend, she said. Mott visited in the fall of 2019 to meet with other classmates.
“I met a lot of people, then COVID hit and they canceled the spring, then they canceled the fall and we are having graduation online,” said Mott.
Even with the classes being online and conducted through Zoom, she has been able to communicate with other classmates through Facebook, video and phone calls.
“I have gotten to know a lot of people in the class, so it is pretty unique,” said Mott.
She said the program is not geared toward any specific job but has nurses, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers and people who are already in the cannabis industry.
“We are all just coming together,” she said. “Because we are the inaugural cohort, it doesn’t matter what career we have right now, we have to sell ourselves to these companies and create our own careers in the cannabis industry.”
Mott and the first class of the Master’s of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics will graduate May 21.