UC Berkeley announces creation of Cannabis Research Center

Multiple nuggets of cannabis rest in a pile atop a white surface.
Rashad Sisemore/File

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UC Berkeley announced Tuesday the creation of its new Cannabis Research Center, which will be the first in the UC system to explore the environmental and social impacts of marijuana legalization.

The research team will focus on three core areas: policy and regulation, environmental impacts and cannabis-producing communities. The team aims to inform public dialogue about marijuana as well as contribute to the advancement of “prosperous communities and healthy environments.”

The Cannabis Research Center consists of a multidisciplinary team of faculty members who have had access to the Social Science Matrix, a campus research start-up incubator, for the past year to independently study cannabis. The team recently decided to declare itself as an official research group through Matrix.

“We realized that the dimensions of cannabis that we were interested in — such as cannabis production, cannabis in communities and the environment — were all integrated,” said Van Butsic, a co-director of the Cannabis Research Center. “It made sense to formally form a center around the ideas.”

In 1996, California became the first state to pass medical marijuana laws under Proposition 215. Since then, cannabis culture in California has grown substantially. The recreational use of marijuana became legal in November 2016 with the passage of Proposition 64, which allows people aged 21 and older to purchase and recreationally use marijuana products. The law went into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Butsic, who has been researching cannabis for more than five years, said he initially faced “skepticism” regarding his work, finding difficulties with funding and other regulations. He added, however, that because of the legalization of recreational marijuana, working in the “cannabis space” has become easier.

“I am excited to build collaborations with the cannabis industry, regulators and other people involved in cannabis,” Butsic said. “We are trying to make sure that the center is a group that can facilitate collaboration research beyond the university.”

The center will be the first in the UC system to examine the often overlooked features of the cannabis plant and its growth. Other UC campuses with cannabis research centers study specific individual effects and public health ramifications of the cannabis plant rather than its agricultural and social aspects.

Many campus students said they support the creation of the new research center because of the uncertainty that surrounds cannabis and its growing popularity.

“For a drug like cannabis, there are a lot of open questions around the specific long-term effects,” said campus senior Dominick Williams. “A research center that can answer those open-ended questions is a net positive. The more information we have about a drug as popular as cannabis, the better.”

Stanley von Ehrenstein-Smith covers research and ideas. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @von_ehrenstein.