Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Cannabis Research Center receive $4.6M in grants

Photo of a marijuana plant
William Ismael/Creative Commons
California Proposition 64, which legalized recreational cannabis use, set aside money for cannabis research at California public universities, according to Van Butsic, co-director of the Cannabis Research Center at UC Berkeley. (Photo by William Ismael under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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On Nov. 13, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control awarded researchers at UC Berkeley’s Cannabis Research Center $4.6 million in grants, which will support research in areas including the environmental impacts of cannabis.

California Proposition 64, which legalized recreational cannabis use, set aside money for cannabis research at California public universities, according to Van Butsic, co-director of the Cannabis Research Center. UC Berkeley research teams received eight of the 34 grants awarded across the state.

“Generally, we know far less about cannabis than other agricultural crops, due to a history of prohibition,” Butsic said in an email. “Research is needed to assure that cannabis is a sustainable crop for both humans and nature.”

According to campus graduate student Phoebe Parker-Shames, cannabis research requires an interdisciplinary approach. She added that cannabis research brings together people whose areas of expertise span a variety of different fields in order to evaluate a system with strong connections to communities, the environment and policy.

Parker-Shames said she and campus professor of wildlife ecology and conservation Justin Brashares received $480,000 in grants to study the environmental impacts of noise and light disturbance from cannabis farms on wildlife.

“Our research is helpful to guide regulations on light or sound or even thresholds and buffer zones in terms of where to place farms,” Parker-Shames said. “It can also help individual farmer decision-making; if you are a cannabis farmer and you want to know how to reduce your impact on wildlife, you first need to know what the sources of that impact are.”

The grant money will enable Parker-Shames’ team to invest in high-quality equipment, but it will mostly go toward paying for the labor hours of field assistants and researchers, she added.

Ted Grantham, co-director of the Cannabis Research Center, will be using the grant funding to study how cannabis farmers use water and its effects on the environment.

“We have a lot of anecdotal evidence that some cannabis farms can have very damaging environmental practices, but we don’t know to what extent these practices exist across the landscape,” Grantham said.

Grantham emphasized the importance of cannabis research in informing policy decision-making and filling in the gaps of existing minimal research on cannabis. 

Research has a “really important” role to play in supporting state transitions of cannabis from illegal to legal markets, according to Grantham. He added that it is crucial for these policy decisions to be supported by science.

“There’s a whole history of vilifying cannabis that made it really hard to do research on it,” Parker-Shames said. “Now we have to hurry to try to understand the industry while it’s also in the process of expanding at unprecedented rates.”

Contact Serene Chang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_serenechang.