St. Joseph's University has a cannabis certificate program, and some Catholics aren't pleased

Jesse Bunch, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Lifestyles

PHILADELPHIA — The message from Catholic Church leaders has been clear: When it comes to marijuana, no means no.

That stance was renewed in the last decade as many states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis. Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016.

So when theology professor R. Jared Staudt came across a cannabis certificate program offered at St. Joseph's University, a Jesuit Catholic university, he smelled a heady conflict of religious values.

"According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, drug use impairs the health of the body and one's ability to make free choices, which is the heart of morality," Staudt said over email from Colorado, where he teaches at the Augustine Institute.

St. Joseph's launched its cannabis studies program in 2020, though it's not the only college showing interest in one of the fastest growing job markets in the country.

Thomas Jefferson University's cannabis program predates St. Joe's by two years, while researchers at Drexel, Temple, and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine conduct cannabis studies of their own.


Unlike an undergraduate or graduate degree, students enrolled in St. Joe's program study for six-month terms to earn certificates in specialty areas like "The Business of Cannabis" and "Cannabis Agriculture and Horticulture," according to the program's website. All classes occur online and are administered by Green Flower, the university's education partner.

"As a Jesuit, Catholic institution, we aim to treat all people with dignity and respect and care for the most vulnerable in our community," said Father Peter A. Clark, director of the Institute of Clinical Bioethics at Saint Joseph's University. "These programs address the medical aspects of marijuana, which has been proven effective in treating various medical conditions."

Statistics show the 171-year-old institution is keeping pace with an expansive field. Nearly 430,000 people work in the $13 billion legal cannabis industry in the United States, with employment growing over 100% over the last five years.

Theologists question toeing the Vatican's hardline opposition to legal pot.


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