Pubdate: Mon, 26 Nov 2012
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2012 Times-Standard
Author: Luke Ramseth


A first-of-its-kind academic institute focused strictly on marijuana 
issues is taking shape at Humboldt State University this fall 
semester. The interdisciplinary institute, made up primarily of HSU 
faculty, is hosting a series of lectures that are open to the public 
and digging into marijuana-centric research in several academic fields.

"They finally tapped into something that's a big local concern and 
part of the identity here," said politics professor Jason Plume, who 
hosts a talk on marijuana regulatory reform Tuesday night at 5:30 
p.m. in HSU's Native Forum.

The lectures have focused on hot marijuana-themed topics in our area 
- -- the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, and the effects of 
cultivation on local wildlife. An October symposium gathered Humboldt 
County Sheriff Mike Downey, District Attorney Paul Gallegos, two 
county supervisors and a Fish and Game biologist to talk 
environmental impacts of marijuana production, and possible policy changes.

Plume will speak Tuesday night on recent marijuana legalization 
efforts in several states, and the regulatory structure needed for 
them to succeed.

Sociology professor Josh Meisel, who co-chairs the institute, said 
faculty members started discussing the idea -- now officially titled 
the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research -- in 
July 2010. Around that time, Meisel said, marijuana became a more 
publicly and academically accepted topic to research. He said there 
was a "culture-shift" after Proposition 19, the marijuana 
legalization initiative, was on the California ballot in 2010.

There are other American universities with illicit drug research 
institutes, Meisel said, but none solely devoted to marijuana. Eleven 
HSU faculty members are listed on the institute's website.

"Across the county, there was the tendency to ignore the 'green 
elephant' in the room," Meisel said. "People across the spectrum 
became concerned after Proposition 19."

Meisel said he and other university faculty saw something lacking 
from the discussions surrounding legalization.

"With these public discussions, there were a lot more questions than 
there were answers," he said, which motivated some HSU faculty like 
himself to go after the topic in an academic context -- not one 
steeped in "conjecture" and "wild claims."

Erick Eschker, an HSU economics professor and the institute's other 
co-chair, said he received calls from the media and the Humboldt 
County Board of Supervisors, asking him about the effects of 
legalization on the economy when Proposition 19 hit the ballot.

"Then it hit me that this just isn't a local issue," said Eschker, 
who is in the process of gathering and studying marijuana production 
data in the county, and working to show its correlation with local employment.

Eschker said the institute is not about advocacy. It's a place where 
top-notch research is done, he said, and a place people can go to get 
their marijuana questions answered. And people are beginning to hear 
of it. Eschker said he's received a call from New York Magazine and 
several researchers from around the country.

"The stigma for marijuana research is pretty much lifted," said 
Anthony Silvaggio, a sociology professor who is studying the 
environmental effects of marijuana cultivation, both indoors and 
outdoors. He's interviewed growers to find out about their practices 
and pesticides they use, and is working to collect data on pesticides 
and fertilizers found at marijuana grows.

He and a graduate student recently compiled a video tour of 600 
outdoor grow sites around Humboldt County using Google imagery to 
show the scope of the environmental marijuana problem. Silvaggio said 
he hopes the institute will help him get more funding for the 
research, something he says has been hard to come by in the past.

Meisel said despite the institute's all-academic focus, he doesn't 
want to shy away from the Humboldt County "pot" identity.

"Instead of distance ourselves from that identity, why don't we own 
that in a proactive way and define the terms?" he asked.

He said the institute is still working to get the word out about its 
existence. It's not a household name yet -- Meisel didn't get calls 
from national media after legalization was recently passed in 
Colorado and Washington, for example.

The focus is on the speaker series to get the word out, and pursuing 
research funding opportunities. The institute is also working to 
create a special section of the HSU library devoted to marijuana.

"Our goal is to try and aid some more informed policy-level 
decisions," Meisel said.

Plume's lecture Tuesday night will be the third in a series of seven 
marijuana lectures being held at HSU this year. The next four will 
touch on topics ranging from Dutch drug policy to the impacts of 
legalization on the local economy.

Plume has been researching recent marijuana movements, including the 
successful legalization efforts in Washington and Colorado, and an 
unsuccessful proposition in Oregon. He interviewed campaign directors 
of legalization efforts in the three states and Arcata Vice Mayor 
Shane Brinton about Measure I -- the electricity grow tax -- for his research.

In his lecture Tuesday, he said he plans to discuss marijuana reform, 
advocacy and the regulatory structure that needs to be in place 
before legalization efforts can succeed. Both Washington and Colorado 
were prepared, he said, with a committee and structures already in 
place that could craft a regulatory scheme for marijuana. He said 
Oregon had less of a plan in place, and it was somewhat fitting that 
legalization did not pass there.

Plume said the institute's formation signals a recent acceptance of 
marijuana as a legitimate area of study. When he started his Ph.D. 
dissertation at Syracuse University, entitled "Cultivating Reform: 
Nixon's Illicit Substance Control Legacy, Medical Marijuana Social 
Movement Organizations, and Venue Shopping," it was hard to get 
people on board. That was in 2008, and he said that skeptical 
sentiment toward his marijuana research continued into 2010.

Plume said he is now in a place receptive to his research, and he 
thinks it may have played a part in his being hired at HSU prior to 
this semester. The institute is still putting together the "nuts and 
bolts," he said, and trying to find cohesiveness.

Eventually, Eschker said, he'd like to host a big marijuana-themed 
conference for national and international marijuana researchers.

"If anyone is going to have a marijuana institute, it really should 
be Humboldt State," he said. "It has the potential to be a 
world-class institute, and we're just getting going."


What: Marijuana regulatory reform lecuture by professor Jason Plume

When: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday

Where: HSU's Native Forum; Behavioral and Social Sciences room 162

More marijuana-themed lectures continue through the end of the spring 
semester at HSU. For a complete schedule, go to
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom