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New Cannabis Research Center launched at the University of Minnesota

Established through the School of Public Health, the center was given $2.5 million in the last legislative session.
Image by David Monterroso
The University of Minnesota campus gates on East Bank, Nov. 12, 2022.

Researchers for the University of Minnesota’s new Cannabis Research Center (CRC) expressed hopes for the center’s research goals and the importance of community collaboration in an announcement for its Nov. 16 launch.

The center’s research wants to study how cannabis affects different communities within Minnesota by using an anti-racist perspective and a community-driven model.

Traci Toomey, a professor at the University in the School of Public Health’s Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, will be serving as the CRC’s inaugural director.

In general, the center’s research aims to look at the broader effects of cannabis legalization on communities through policy, Toomey said.

It is important to answer questions communities want to know in the center’s research because cannabis policies have major inequities and certain communities face greater oppression, according to Toomey. When Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) legalized cannabis use for adults in Minnesota last May, one of the key reasons he did it was the effect of cannabis incarceration on Black communities. Toomey said she wants the research to build off that sentiment.

Individuals from Black communities are incarcerated disproportionally for cannabis use, according to Toomey. Part of May’s legislation worked to remove criminal records of those who received a misdemeanor for cannabis use and give priority to those who need it most.

Rhonda Jones-Webb, a professor at the University in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health and associate director for equity and engagement, said her role is designed to ensure the research questions the center asks include community and Black people, Indigenous people and people of color voices.

Collaboration with stakeholder groups, policymakers, community neighborhood associations, nonprofits and health departments in relevance to everyday medicine is a priority, Jones-Webb said.

“This research really is going to benefit all Minnesotans, particularly those who have borne the brunt of enforcement of cannabis laws related to cannabis use,” Jones-Webb said.

The center’s research could be published within the next six months to a year and take the form of academic journals, policy briefs, radio stations and print to ensure the findings reach a diverse audience, according to Jones-Webb.

The legislation provides guidance in terms of looking at education related to cannabis, such as the knowledge gaps and treatment gaps in different populations related to cannabis, Jones-Webb said.

Timothy Beebe, interim dean at the University’s School of Public Health, led the interactions with the legislature to frame and form the idea that if cannabis was going to be legalized, there should be a center to assess its impacts.

“I’m also kind of hesitant to even call it research,” Beebe said. “It’s really an assessment index of the needs of the community, and that’s why when I say we’re a public good, we really want to be an asset to the state.”

Other universities, such as UCLA, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Davis and Drexel University, have cannabis research centers. The School of Public Health’s center is more comprehensive in scope in its commitment to engaging with communities as a priority, Beebe said.

“No matter where you land on this, if you’re for it or against it, I think there’s general agreement that we should be measuring its impacts,” Beebe said.

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