The commercial sale of cannabis starts in Massachusetts on July 1st of this year, which will make the small but heavily populated state the only one on the east coast to legally offer marijuana for adult-use purchase. Beyond the significance of the state ending over 80 years of prohibition on marijuana, there may be another underlying significance to a world leader in biotech, life sciences and healthcare finally embracing cannabis.
While the federal government makes it very difficult for scientists to access cannabis for research from its facilities in Mississippi, (just ask UMass plant biology professor Lyle Clarke who has been applying to gain access to federal cannabis every year since 2002 and has been denied each time) perhaps researches in Massachusetts will no longer look for that permission. Marion McNabb, CEO of Cannabis Community Care and Research Network and a public health doctor, has a long term vision for what she thinks the significance of Massachusetts legalizing cannabis will be.
“My vision is Massachusetts could be the number one leading cannabis research state in the world,” McNabb said.
“Now, someone publishes one study on cannabis and opioids, another looks at youth prevention, they’re all in silos,” McNabb said, adding that a place for open sharing of data could “drive science and evidence-based practices” and inform policy.
That is saying a lot considering both Canada and Israel have major head starts on Massachusetts. But, with some of the top medical and biological minds and companies in the world working out of Massachusetts, she may have a point. The reality is that the cannabis growers in Massachusetts are likely to produce a much higher quality cannabis than what the federal government produces in Mississippi, providing better samples to researchers anyways.
“Given the investment in technology, the staggering array of biotech and scientific expertise, it virtually ensures Massachusetts will be an important player,” said Staci Gruber, director of MIND, Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery, at McLean Hospital in Belmont.
“The products the government grows and oversees for research may not have any bearing on products patients are using in the real world,” said Gruber, who has received research funding from NIDA.
Researchers in Massachusetts are not entirely risk free just because cannabis and its commercial sale is legal. Many scientists depend on federal grant money for many studies they are conducting and working with state legal cannabis could jeopardize their funding on other projects as well as endanger the company as a whole. However, considering the strength of the marijuana legalization movement and the significant amount of pressure being placed on Washington D.C., scientists in Massachusetts may find the path to research on marijuana uninhibited.
Marijuana is a very complex plant with over 130 cannabinoids, and people understand little about what the different combinations of cannabinoids can do to treat certain conditions. There are a number of bills circulating through congress with support to deschedule cannabis and allow states to decide their own policies towards marijuana. Sen. Chuck Schumer recently introduced a bill that would legalize cannabis and Sen. Cory Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act last year.