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Post-politics, CSU-Pueblo’s cannabis conference fights with facts

(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

For a town that has been gripped by the fight over whether to allow the continuation of the recreational marijuana industry, Pueblo seems like the last place to host the world’s top cannabis researchers and experts.

Or it might be the perfect place for a three-day conference.

Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research hosted its first conference in late April, less than five months after a local ballot initiative threatened to ban recreational shops, grows and manufacturing facilities.

“Cannabis Experts Take Center Stage: From the Margins to the Mainstream” was the overlying theme of the event.

The propositions to end the marijuana industry failed, but the questions about marijuana’s potential health benefits and how it impacts the community and economy, remained.  Many proponents of the industry say they think more education might help calm nerves and settle concerns about the industry and the controversial plant itself.

At a community meeting earlier this year, a  Pueblo businessman, who represents a local interest group for the betterment of Pueblo, said he was disappointed in the university’s cannabis conference because it all seemed to be ‘pro-marijuana.’

Most importantly for ICR, the conference was completely built around science and research, not politics or speculation.

“The goal of the first international conference (was) to bring together the leading scientists and researchers in the world who are studying all aspects of the cannabis plant. The plant is quite complex with varying scientific conclusions on benefits and detriments. It depends on what one is researching,” said Jennifer Mullen, interim director of ICR, of the conference.

The conference was not an offshoot of the election, but a totally separate endeavor from the local industry and politics. However,it did provide a scientific backdrop for the claims, falsehoods and questions that trail marijuana legalization in Colorado as well as nationwide

“Some cannabis compounds may have potential for negative effects, others, quite positive effects. It’s kind of simplistic to be ‘for’ or ‘against’ cannabis because the plant is so complex, it has the potential for many different effects and impacts. We know very little about the cannabis plant, that’s why this conference is generating so much national and international notoriety.”

Headliner of the event included Carl Hart, Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia. He tackled the bias related to cannabis research.

Raphael Mechoulam, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the Institute of Drug Research at Hebrew University in Israel. He’st most widely known for being “the father of cannabis research.”

Dirk Ziff, Professor of Psychology in the departments of psychology and psychiatry at Northeastern University in Boston, spoke and served as guest editor of the conference, that’s to be published in summer 2017.

For a first-year conference of a substance so contentious, the turnout was expected to be large prior to the “all things cannabis” themed event. Attendees of the conference hailed from five countries and 21 states. More than 70 presentations were scheduled.

“The ability to become known and respected among the leading cannabis researchers in the world has the potential to bring notoriety to the ICR, which can translate into tremendous opportunities for new research, new research partnerships, and academic, scientific, governmental, and industry collaborations,” Mullen said.

Less than one year ago, CSU-Pueblo received a $900,000 grant from the state to fund cannabis research. In 2018, the university hopes to build upon the original investment with more grants and funding outside what the state provides. ICR is expecting another $900,000.

“This is a testament to the local, state, national, and international impact of the progress of the ICR in only eleven months and our ability to be good stewards of the taxpayers dollars and follow through on our commitments,” Mullen said.

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Kara Mason is PULP's news editor. She is also the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Pro Chapter president. Kara freelances for other regional publications, covering government, politics and the environment.

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