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California Awards Nearly $30 Million in Funding for Cannabis Research

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Nov 20, 2020   
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California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) has awarded $29,950,494 in public university research grant funding to support cannabis-focused research projects in the state.

On September 17, the BCC issued a public request for research proposals and announced that it had up to $30 million available to be disbursed between research projects relating to the implementation of Proposition 64, the 2016 voter initiative that legalized adult recreational cannabis use in the state.

As of the submission deadline in mid-October, the BCC had received over 100 applications for the available funding. Following a review process, the bureau has now awarded funding to 34 research projects at nine public institutions in the state.

Nine public universities receive grants

As laid out in its local revenue and taxation code, California has committed to disbursing the equivalent of $10 million in funding for cannabis research for each fiscal year until 2028-29. Eligible research projects are required to publish publicly-available reports on their findings at least every two years, and should also fall into one of the named areas of interest, including public health, criminal justice, public safety, regulatory analysis, and the environmental and economic impact of the cannabis industry.

“The research conducted through these public university grants will provide critical information for evaluating our legal cannabis system and its impacts,” BCC Chief Lori Ajax said in a statement. “This research will be a valuable tool to inform future cannabis policy in California.”

The nine public universities receiving grants from the state are: UC San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara, CSU Dominguez Hills, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Davis, and CSU Humboldt.

UC San Francisco and UCLA are the two biggest recipients of the grant funding; each were awarded just over $6.4 million. At UC San Francisco this will fund five research projects, three studies focusing on the direct health effects of cannabis on the brain, endothelium, and the lungs, and one study each looking at current point-of-sale messaging and incidents of cannabis poisoning. UCLA’s portion of the funding will be split between seven studies on topics including second-hand smoke, equity in the industry, consumer demographic analysis, and marketing.

UC Berkeley was awarded around $4.67 million to pursue eight research projects, the highest number of successful project proposals at any one school. Just over $1.8 million of this amount has been allocated to look at the local regulation of cannabis in California, while the rest of the funding has been split between projects examining specific issues in cultivation, the unregulated market, and tribal sovereignty over cannabis on native ancestral lands.

UC San Diego was awarded a total of $3.4 million to study four topics, including cannabis use among older adults and the effects of edible packaging and labeling on youth cannabis use. UC Davis was given a similar amount, totaling just over $3.1 million, to split between five studies examining the use of cannabis in early psychosis, a general assessment of the industry, environmental and economic impact, and worker’s knowledge of occupational health and industry hazards.

CSU Humboldt was given funds to support two research projects focused on the cannabis job market and the economic impact of the industry in Northern California. CSU Dominguez Hills, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Irvine all received funding for one project each.

The peculiar position of cannabis in California

Legal cannabis sales within California hit a record high of $348 million in July, outstripping the previous record set in March during the height of coronavirus pandemic panic buying. For scale, legal cannabis sales in Canada for the month of July were also record breaking for the country, but maxed out at just $175.6 million USD.

Generally, California is considered to be the world’s largest legal cannabis market, and according to a recent analysis of cannabis research funding, it is also one of the most prominent providers of research funding by state.

But despite the sheer dollar value of the market and the amounts spent on research within its borders, cannabis still occupies a very odd status in California. Although the state-wide legalization of recreational cannabis passed easily when put to a ballot vote, more than half of Californian local jurisdictions currently do not permit retail sales of the drug; only 57 percent of the state’s population actually living in areas with access to legal sales.

Aided by this legal inaccessibility, the state is also home to a giant illicit cannabis market. While legal sales for the year 2019 exceeded $3 billion, it is estimated that illicit sales of cannabis may have been worth over $8.7 billion over the same timeframe.

With several of the research projects being funded by this latest BCC grant specifically focusing on the analysis of local cannabis policy and the transformation of the unregulated market since legalization, perhaps these new research proposals could hold the key to addressing some of the state’s biggest issues.


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