York College, partner see new Cannabinoid Chemistry as much more than an experiment

By Abigail Balderson

THERE have been several new additions to the majors offered at York College this year. One of those is Cannabinoid Chemistry. 

The name itself as a college major tends to raise questions and eyebrows. 

This new major is the first of its kind to be offered in the state. And fittingly has a unique story of how it came to be available to students this semester.

Dr. Jessica M. Fautch, the chair of the Chemistry department, was one of the three staff members to create the program. 

She said pre-pandemic that a program of that nature was brought up in a one-off conversation to which she and other faculty members simply laughed.. At the time it was nothing more than a far-fetched joke. 

However, after the effects of the pandemic set in, the Chemistry department was struggling to find ways to bring in students. They wanted something fun and interesting to draw students to York, she said.

And they thought back to that conversation. There was potential, and they ran with it. 

In its infancy the Cannabinoid Chemistry major was only a certificate program, but after trying to get the pieces to fit the criteria required, Fautch said she realized that it needed to be a bachelor’s degree. 

The program itself is primarily chemistry based with a focus on Cannabinoids. Fautch describes the course load as “hard-core science.” 

Cannabinoid Chemistry brings many new and unique opportunities to YCP students, one of which is the new partnership between York College and Groff North America (GNA).

GNA is a locally owned company and a federally legal producer of cannabis, one of five in America, Groff said.

Dr. Steven K. Groff is the founder of the company and is based in Red Lion. He commented on how it is “a big deal in a little town” to have this special license. 

GNA is focused on making medicine out of cannabis for FDA approval; the company does not sell to dispensaries nor sell for recreational use. It is primarily providing the cannabis that it grows to researchers. 

An image of a lab at Groff North America, provided by Groff North America.

Groff founded GNA only four years ago in an effort to pursue a new business while still using the skills he has from being an orthopedic surgeon. 

He said that he originally began looking into CBD and hemp but then saw a great opportunity to become federally approved. The process took three years.

Cannabis isn’t the taboo topic that it used to be only a few years ago. The career field relating to cannabis is rapidly expanding. According to Forbes, cannabis jobs are up 33% in just 1 year.

Though cannabis is still a Schedule I drug under federal law, 19 states have OK’d marijuana for recreational purposes and 38 for medicinal use. Five more — Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota — will vote on recreational marijuana in November, according to cnet.com.   

This new and quickly developing job field is a great opportunity for students, making the Cannabinoid Chemistry program a great addition to York College.

The relationship between York College and Groff North America was grown from the 20-year friendship between Dr. Gregory P. Foy and Groff.

Foy is a professor at York College and is one of the three faculty who assisted in the formation of the Cannabinoid Chemistry major. 

Lab equipment, image provided by Groff North America.

After running into each other only a few months ago, Foy shared information about the new program, which led to Groff telling him about GNA. Groff told The Spatan, “It set off the lightbulb in both of our heads that we should work together.

He continued, “We can complement each other’s goals. The college wants to educate students and have a wonderful educational program. And we have an incredible opportunity for internships and research.” 

Fautch and Groff both described the partnership as in its early stages with lots of room for potential. As time progresses, they hope the opportunities for York College students grow. 

One student, senior Raven Alwine-Frank, is the first student to have an internship through this new partnership. 

Alwine-Frank is majoring in the newly available Bio-Chemistry program. Despite not being in the Cannabinoid Chemistry program, he has given insight to the four freshmen currently in the major. 

Through his internship at GNA he has learned much about the inner workings of legality and abiding by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administation (DEA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensing. He also has been working on an independent study on campus using materials from GNA since June of this year.

Lab equipment, image provided by Groff North America.

Groff recently became a member of York College’s Chemistry Department Industry Advisory Council, or CIAC. This council oversees the Chemistry department’s connections with partnered companies that also provide internships and resources to YCP students. 

York College and Groff North America are both excited to see where this budding partnership leads in the future and the potential it offers.

Abigail Balderson is a sophomore majoring in Literary and Textual Studies.

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