Cannabis Research Center to study impact of legalization in Minnesota

Cannabis Research Center to study impact of legalization in Minnesota

Cannabis Research Center to study impact of legalization in Minnesota

A big part of the debate over legalizing cannabis for recreational use is the list of unknowns about the long-term impacts on public health, public safety and young people. In anticipating these questions, state lawmakers included funding for a Cannabis Research Center that will track these impacts.

“I was a little surprised when I recently was looking at the research literature, and there are just so many questions that are unanswered,” said Dr. Traci Toomey, the first director of the Minnesota Cannabis Research Center based at the University of Minnesota.

The Legislature dedicated $2.5 million per year from sales taxes collected from cannabis sales to fund the research center.

The law states the research center “must investigate the effects of cannabis use on health and research other topics related to cannabis, including but not limited to prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, equity issues, education, and decriminalization.”

“Even if there were some questions that have been answered in other states, we can’t assume we’ll find the same answer in Minnesota because the laws can be different,” Toomey said. “The way they’re implemented can be different.”

Toomey says the center will focus on a wide array of areas of concern, including public safety.

“Will legalization of cannabis in Minnesota increase traffic crashes? And that’s something that we’re concerned about,” Toomey said. “The answer’s not clear. Some states they’ve seen an increase in traffic crashes. Some states have not seen an increase.”

Then there’s the issue of the impact on young people, including those under age 21 who can’t legally possess or use cannabis but who could have much easier access now that it’s legal for adults over 21.

“Some of the research does show some concerns about the effects on brain development,” Toomey told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “Maybe progression to other types of problems like cannabis use disorder. So there’s quite a bit of research evidence there, but we don’t have all the answers.”

It will be some time before they have many answers at all because legalization is so new in Minnesota. Toomey started her work as director last month, and the first order of business will be partnering with public safety, public health and other agencies to collect data that can be studied.