Higher education: Humboldt State University launches marijuana institute

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Humboldt County, California, “the heartland of high-grade marijuana farming” in the Golden State according to The New Yorker, now boasts the first and — for now — only academic institute dedicated solely to cannabis.

The Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research on the campus of Humboldt State University sponsors scholarly lectures and will be a hub for research among 11 faculty members from a wide range of fields including economics, geography, politics and psychology, The Associated Press reports.

One of the professors is analyzing the politics of pot legalization, reports the Times-Standard of Eureka, CA. Another professor is researching the effects of marijuana cultivation on the environment. Politics professor Jason Plume will present a lecture this week on the marijuana reform movement — one of seven lectures the institute is scheduled to host this year.

Humboldt State University in Arcata, about 280 miles north of San Francisco, is the northernmost campus of the California State University system.

“If anyone is going to have a marijuana institute, it really should be Humboldt State,” economist Erick Eschker, the institute’s co-chair, told the Times-Standard. “It has the potential to be a world-class institute, and we’re just getting going.”

Eschker is currently collecting local marijuana production data and investigating its connection to employment in the county.

While various other American universities have institutes that bring together multiple disciplines to focus on illicit drugs, the one at Humboldt State appears to be the only one devoted exclusively to marijuana.

The notion for the institute first took root among Humboldt State faculty in 2010, reports the AP. At the time, California was in the midst of an intense political battle over Proposition 19, which, had it passed, would have made marijuana essentially the equivalent of alcohol under state law.

“With these public discussions, there were a lot more questions than there were answers,” said sociology professor Josh Meisel, the other co-chair of the institute, the Times-Standard says.

Meisel and other faculty members who are now part of the institute wanted to apply academic rigor to the economic, political and health-related issues raised by marijuana usage.

Now that voters in Colorado and Washington have passed ballot measures legalizing marijuana at the state level, the institute is more vital than ever.

“Our goal is to try and aid some more informed policy-level decisions,” Meisel said, according to the Times-Standard.

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Eric Owens