Could Massachusetts become a cannabis research hub?

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Could Massachusetts become a cannabis research hub?
03-Nov-22 05:04:15

Not without more federal and state support, experts say 

WITH WORLD CLASS medical facilities and universities, and a highly educated workforce, Massachusetts is a national leader in medicine, life sciences, and biotech. Could the state leverage those assets to also become a leading light of cannabis research? 

As President Biden pledges to explore changing federal restrictions on cannabis, some researchers and policymakers hope to position Massachusetts at the forefront of the nascent field of marijuana research. “We have embraced research forever. It makes sense we’d be a cannabis research hub,” said Dr. Staci Gruber, director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) program at Harvard’s McLean Hospital. “We have all the requisite pieces — biotech, academia.” 

While researchers say the potential is there, there are still many barriers to conducting cannabis research, both on a federal and a state level.  

Today, marijuana research is heavily regulated, and there is a lack of available funding. Even if the federal barriers are removed, those involved in the industry said the state would need to do more to encourage research, by providing money and changing regulations. 

Gruber, who consults with other states on their programs to publicly fund marijuana research, said that is one important way Massachusetts is behind. “It’s stunning to me that my own state doesn’t have this yet,” she said of public funding for cannabis research.

The federal government today classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the most dangerous classification, even though many states have legalized it. That means it has historically been difficult to get federal funding for research on marijuana. Until recently, researchers had to obtain marijuana for federally funded projects from one specific source, which precluded research on the myriad products like edibles or extracts now available on dispensary shelves.  

Because universities get most of their research funding from federal sources like the National Institutes of Health, they have been reluctant to authorize cannabis research on their campuses out of fear that it will jeopardize that funding. 

Biden in early October ordered federal agencies to review how marijuana is scheduled – a potential first step toward removing some marijuana restrictions. 

At a recent meeting of the state Cannabis Control Commission, executive director Shawn Collins suggested that federal rescheduling could be a boon to Massachusetts, given the state’s educational institutions, hospitals, biotech, and the commission’s commitment to issuing cannabis research licenses. “I’d argue Massachusetts would be the premier location for any cannabis research to occur,” Collins said.