The University of Minnesota last week launched the new Cannabis Research Center, only six months after the institution was authorized by the state’s marijuana legalization statute. The center, which was established as part of the university’s School of Public Health, will work to assess the impact of cannabis legalization in Minnesota and advise policymakers as they establish regulations and best practices for the state.
In May, Governor Tim Walz signed H. F. 100, which legalized cannabis for adults aged 21 and older. As part of the legislation, lawmakers included a $2.5 million annual appropriation to fund the center, which will be paid by cannabis tax revenue once the state’s regulated recreational weed market is up and running. Professor Traci Toomey, a public health policy expert focusing on substance use control policies, will serve as the Cannabis Research Center’s first director.
“We’re extremely grateful to the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Walz for their leadership and support in creating Minnesota’s first-ever research center focused on cannabis here at the School of Public Health,” Toomey said in an announcement from the university’s School of Public Health. “I am excited for the opportunity to lead the Cannabis Research Center and, alongside my colleagues at the School of Public Health, to conduct innovative research on the health effects of adult-use cannabis legalization on people and communities across the state, including prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, equity issues, education and decriminalization.”
Assessing the Impact of Cannabis Legalization
The university noted that knowledge on the impact of cannabis legalization “is limited and inconsistent, due largely to the lack of formalized evaluations, robust data sets and strong research programs.” The Cannabis Research Center (CRC) is tasked with learning how Minnesotans use cannabis and how the legalization of marijuana affects the state’s people and communities. To guide its work, the CRC has already established several core principles including:
- Leading the scientific community in cannabis research.
- Upholding antiracist principles by prioritizing questions related to equity and incorporating antiracist practices into collaborations, research questions and methods, interpretations and communications.
- Maximizing health benefits and minimizing health problems related to cannabis by addressing timely questions now and into the future.
- Being a trusted source of information about cannabis research for individuals, communities and organizations.
“We will work collaboratively with state and local agencies and community-based organizations to explore and identify the initial research priorities related to cannabis use in Minnesota,” said Timothy Beebe, interim dean of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “I am confident that, under Dr. Toomey’s leadership, the CRC will provide the data and evidence our policymakers need to make informed decisions about cannabis to prevent inequity and adverse health impacts throughout Minnesota.”
One focus of research conducted at the CRC will be investigating how cannabis affects underage users, who can be particularly susceptible to the potential harms of marijuana use.
“For young people, their brain is still developing. And so there’s some concerns about the effects of cannabis on brain development,” Toomey told Minnesota Public Radio. “And the earlier people start using, there’s some concern that they may be more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder later in their life.”
Another priority of the CRC’s work will be exploring how cannabis legalization affects important issues such as public safety and health equity.
“What we see sometimes happens with other substances like alcohol and tobacco, is that sometimes some communities are disproportionately targeted by marketing, or maybe they have more of the stores or dispensaries in their neighborhood because some people want to buy the product, but they don’t want those stores in their neighborhood,” said Toomey.
Minnesota’s recreational marijuana law went into effect in August, allowing adults 21 and older to possess and use cannabis without fear of criminal penalties. State-licensed cannabis dispensaries are expected to open in early 2025 after policymakers establish the regulations for the commercial production and sale of cannabis products.