Vanessa Williams is Rutgers Law’s first assistant dean of new programs, charged with expanding the school’s educational programming to reach a wider audience. Her first initiative is a cannabis certificate program for New Jersey cultivators and retailers.
Vanessa Williams began her tenure as Rutgers Law School’s first assistant dean of new programs in January 2022. With a history in marketing, higher education, and professional development, her goal is to leverage the expertise of Rutgers Law’s faculty for a wider audience beyond law students and legal professionals.
Her first endeavor is the launch of a new six-month Certificate in Cannabis Law and Business, which is developed specifically for New Jersey’s legal cannabis industry and begins in January 2023. The first of its kind for Rutgers Law, this program is tailored for an audience outside of the legal community.
Here, get to know Williams and learn more about the new Certificate in Cannabis Law and Business.
Your job as assistant dean of new programs includes developing programs for audiences beyond law students and lawyers. Who are you most hoping to reach?
I’m hoping to connect with anyone who needs to know a bit about the law, but who doesn't need or want to be a lawyer. Topics could range from compliance to human resources, and offerings can support anyone who could benefit from skills that law professors bring to the table—whether it’s analytical, persuasive speaking, or research skills. The potential audience is so broad that I have so many ideas and have a challenge narrowing them down!
What are your overall goals for your position?
The position is charged with generating revenue for the law school, but for me that is tied up with building a thriving portfolio of programs and a dynamic community of people who feel they’re a part of Rutgers Law even if they aren't coming here for a JD degree. If we’re able to expand our programming and audiences, the revenue piece will come along with it.
I would love for Rutgers Law to be known as a place that is doing exciting new programming and redefining the impact a law school can make.
What kinds of topics will the cannabis certificate program cover?
The program is focused on the legal aspects of running a compliant cannabis business in New Jersey. The course translates state and federal rules and regulations into actionable items so business owners can act responsibly and compliantly.
We cover state and federal laws and regulations, the licensing process, how to trademark your intellectual property, how to establish reliable contacts with vendors, maintaining physical and cyber security, and more. We’re supported by faculty from departments across Rutgers, as well as industry professionals and a wide range of guest speakers, so that participants will get a really well-rounded and interdisciplinary curriculum.
Who is the ideal candidate for the certificate program?
The program will be valuable for business owners who have already received their conditional license and are working on converting it, folks who are thinking of applying for a conditional license and are wondering what they need to do to be successful, and employees of already established cannabis businesses looking to step into managerial roles. It will also be of benefit to people who are interested in providing ancillary services to cannabis businesses, and who want a foundation that will help them best support this industry. The courses are live so that our instructors can tailor the content to the participants.
For one module, cultivators and retailers take part in specialized breakout sessions. Cultivators will learn the details of agricultural laws in New Jersey and what testing is required of them to get a clean certificate of analysis. The retailer module is focused on issues related to operating a storefront. In the future, as the industry expands, we hope to create other tracks for other licensed classes.
What is your plan for the future of this program?
We hope this will be an ongoing program. As the needs of the New Jersey cannabis industry evolve, our program will also evolve. We also plan to offer updates annually for those who have gone through the program, so participants and instructors can reconnect with one another and get up to date with what’s happened in the last year.
This cannabis program is the first program offered by the law school for an audience outside of law students and the legal community. Why is this an important area for Rutgers Law?
Obviously, as with any law program, our core mission and focus is training people to be lawyers. That said, we are also the State University of New Jersey, and we have a responsibility to the local community. Rutgers Law fulfills that responsibility through pro bono and clinic work, and we have a rich history in social justice.
This new program fits squarely at the intersection of expanding education access, promoting social equity, and supporting people of color who have been marginalized and targeted through the war on drugs. This is an opportunity for anyone in the state to receive support from an institution like Rutgers Law.