The University of California at Berkeley has announced the creation of a research center that will study the effects of the cannabis industry on the state. The new center will analyze the impact that cannabis production has on the environment and society, including communities that grow cannabis. The policies and regulations enacted to control those impacts will also be studied.
The Cannabis Research Center will be led by co-directors Van Butsic and Ted Grantham of the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Grantham told campus media that California’s evolving cannabis policy should be guided by science.
“This is a rapidly changing industry, and no one really knows where it is headed,” Grantham said. “Everyone is playing catch up to a certain extent, and we believe researchers have an important role in bringing independent scientific information to conversations around cannabis policy.”
Butsic noted that the transition to legal cultivation of recreational cannabis in California has been fraught with challenges.
“We’re about a year into the formal legalization of recreational cannabis production and it has been a rocky start,” Butsic said. “There have been fewer participants in the market — producers — than were anticipated. Some growers appear to have gone out of production, many appear to remain in black market production and a relatively small subset of growers have gone through the process of compliance.”
Research Will Support the New Industry
Research at the center can help support the newly regulated cannabis operators in the state, according to Butsic.
“The grower community that has pursued legal production are very vocal about the issues and challenges facing their group,” he continued. “We have been trying to better understand what are the barriers to compliance and, ultimately, if there can be changes made in policies that can really help to catalyze this transition.”
Butsic said that researchers hope to learn what effects a fully compliant California cannabis industry would have on the state.
“We are working on a big project right now where we are mapping where all the farms are after the latest regulatory changes,” said Butsic. “We want to know, if we could take down these barriers and everybody became compliant, what would that mean for local water budgets, environmental health, and for the amount of cannabis that would be produced?”
A better understanding of the regulation of cannabis cultivation could be applicable to the broader agricultural sector, Butsic believes.
“Agriculture has been notoriously difficult to regulate in the past and this is a system where the regulators got the upper hand,” he said. “So it will be interesting to see how the producers respond, and if cannabis producers can be profitable and meet these super-high environmental performance measures, then perhaps there is knowledge and technology that can transfer from the cannabis industry to the rest of agriculture that can improve the environmental performance of food production.”
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