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First WIU Student Graduates with Cannabis & Culture Minor

An online version of the program will debut later this year.

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MACOMB & MOLINE, Ill. – In fall 2020, Western Illinois University jumped to the head of the line when its two cannabis-related minors debuted in Fall 2020: WIU College of Arts and Sciences' (CAS) Cannabis & Culture minor and the School of Agriculture's Cannabis Production minor. The Cannabis & Culture minor is an interdisciplinary minor that is nationally distinctive as it is the only known minor that focuses on social justice issues related to cannabis use and the cannabis industry. In Spring 2021 WIU graduated the first of its five Cannabis & Culture minors.

According to Anthropology Professor and co-creator of the CAS Minor Heather McIlvaine-Newsad, no other public or private institution in the state of Illinois offers a minor that addresses the socio-economic, historical, religious and cultural aspects of cannabis in the United States and around the world.

Alison Coats is the first WIU student to graduate with a minor in Cannabis & Culture.

"I learned so much about the medical efficacy of cannabis use in this minor. We learned about how Charlotte Figge, a young girl with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy, became a leading figure in the CBD movement. She even changed the mind of Dr. Sanjay Gupta (from CNN) about the medical and moral obligations our society has to allow people to use cannabis to treat certain illnesses," Coats said.

"I think what changed Dr. Gupta's mind about the efficacy of using medical marijuana was seeing how much it improved Charlotte's life, as well as the many other users of medical marijuana that he spoke to. For most of them, the use of medical marijuana saved their lives," said Senica Springer, a current student in the minor. "As someone with a family member who uses medical marijuana, I believe that it really can help improve one's quality of life. I've also learned about the racial history of cannabis in the United States, which still plays out today."

The 18- to 19-credit-hour interdisciplinary minor is comprised of courses from anthropology, botany, history, liberal arts and sciences, philosophy, religious studies, English and political science. The minor includes such courses as Cannabis Culture, Religion & Drugs, Contemporary Moral Problems, History of Drugs, Introduction to Public Policy and Ethno-botany, among others. In Spring 2022, McIlvaine-Newsad and Haynes will lead the minor's first study Abroad trip (ANTH 379/679 and LAS 379/679) to Amsterdam to learn more about the international cannabis industry (learn more at

An online version of the minor will debut this fall. In addition, beginning in Fall 2020, WIU students who minor in Cannabis & Culture, and enroll in at least one religious studies course, may be eligible for a $1,000/semester Mary Olive Woods Scholarship. Interested students can obtain the Woods Scholarship application by emailing [email protected].

Former and current students in the minor have expressed interest in working in the growing cannabis industry in Illinois. McIlvaine-Newsad added that having an interdisciplinary exposure to the socio-economic, historical, political, medical and cultural components of the cannabis industry gives individuals not only a broad-based education, but also an understanding of policy, as well as marketplace knowledge.

"This minor provides a solid foundation for understanding the socio-cultural, historical and politics of cannabis use in the U.S. and around the world," WIU Religious Studies and Liberal Arts and Sciences Professor and co-creator of the CAS Minor Sarah Haynes said. "WIU's Cannabis & Culture minor gives our students numerous, diverse educational opportunities that examine the various aspects of the cannabis trade."

For more information about the minor, visit, or contact Haynes at [email protected] or McIlvaine-Newsad at [email protected] or (309) 298-1264.

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