The University of Berkeley has launched the Cannabis Research Center which will the explore the environmental and social impacts of cannabis legalization. Cannabis has a long history as an agricultural crop, but its acceptance as a legitimate crop has been a long circuitous.
The Cannabis Research Center will look at how cannabis production impacts the environment and society under its current state of regulation and seek to discover how this may evolve as regulation does. California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996.
Many states followed and in 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Many other states have followed that, and recreational cannabis use is now legal in California. Co-director of the cannabis Research Center, Van Butsic, says that a year after the legalization of recreational marijuana use, the industry is still adapting to increased regulation.
Small industry could teach big lessons
Van Butsic says The Center will try to understand the impacts of the law on local growers and the broader cannabis industry. While agricultural cannabis production makes up only a tiny part of California's total agricultural industry, the heavy regulation surrounding it makes it valuable to study.
Cannabis farmers in California need to be permitted by the state water board, by local government, and by the state government to grow cannabis legally.
Within all three there are additional environmental regulations that need to be met that results in a higher order of environmental performance than most other agricultural crops.
Agriculture in the US has been very difficult to regulate in the past. But the strict regulation of cannabis is a good case study to see if the production can be profitable and meet the strict super-high environmental performance measures.
Producers work hard to meet regulations
If it proves that they can, then there will be valuable lessons learned that could be passed onto the rest of the agriculture industry that might improve the environmental performance of food production.
One of the first projects of the Cannabis Research Center is creating a map that shows where all the producers in California situate after the latest regulatory changes.
Researchers are looking at its impacts on local water budgets, environmental health and crop numbers. Despite most cannabis producers being small scale, they can have significant impacts on local water environments because they are extracting water from streams and creeks which can impact salmon and other fish populations.
Another focus area for the Center will be examining the social impacts of new regulations on farmers and their communities. As cannabis production increases, there may be a trend towards industrialization of the industry that could have a profound effect on long-time small farmers.