People have long speculated on the social and environmental impacts of cannabis, but cannabis prohibition has made nuances of the realm difficult to study. There is a severe lack of research regarding the integrated systems in the cannabis industry. This why the Berkeley Cannabis Research Center comes as welcome news for proponents who want to make research-backed claims on the global impact of cannabis legalization.

Led by co-directors Ted Grantham and Van Butsic, the center focuses on changes that make the transition into legalization easier and make compliance more accessible. Some of those changes come at a policy level, though the research team aims to have a better understanding of what stands in the way for industry people.

The center is affiliated with the Social Science Matrix, a social science research institute at the university. It’s an incubator dedicated to the research of cannabis—the first of its kind for researching the relevant social and environmental impact. More specifically, they research how governing systems manage the environmental impacts of cannabis production, and how well those systems are working.

In California, for example—where medical cannabis has been legal for over twenty years—the impact cannabis production has on hydrological cycles and freshwater environments remains unknown. There is also no research surrounding how Californian farmers have adjusted to new guidelines, which is why the researchers are looking at how regulations make compliance accessible across different scales of farming. So far, researchers have found less participation within the cannabis space than they anticipated.

Despite this challenge, the center continues to monitor how cannabis production can help communities remain sustainable while minimizing the negative impact on the environment. Their hope is that this comprehensive new research opens public dialogue surrounding cannabis legalization. They’re focusing on three core areas: policy and regulation, environmental impacts, and cannabis-producing communities. The work could dramatically impact non-legal farmers making the transition to legal commercialized cannabis.

As Michael Polson, a researcher associated with the project, tells, “The Cannabis Research Center brings a spotlight to matters of cultivation and the environment, farmers, and communities that depend on it. Prohibition inhibited the ability of researchers to understand and build useful knowledge around this widely grown plant. We hope to fill that gap and build towards sustainability, equity, and justice along the way.”


Diana-Ashley Krach is a freelance writer, journalist, and content creator whose work can be found on Everyday Feminism, Ravishly, and Playboy. She is the co-host and creator of Your Highness Podcast and founder of Good Vibes Marketing Agency. You can find her on Twitter or on her website