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University of Minnesota launches Cannabis Research Center

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The University of Minnesota School of Public Health launched a new Cannabis Research Center on Thursday.

The center will conduct research aimed at assessing the health impacts of the state’s recent legalization of recreational cannabis for adults, and help inform future policies and practices as the new law is rolled out.

When state lawmakers made Minnesota the 23rd state in the nation to legalize recreational cannabis use in May, they set aside $2.5 million in annual funding — to come from a cannabis sales tax — to fund the center, to better understand how cannabis use affects different Minnesota populations and communities.

University officials said the new center will focus on work to better understand how cannabis use interacts with substances such as opioids and alcohol, as well as the health effects of cannabis on underage users.

“For young people, their brain is still developing. And so there’s some concerns about the effects of cannabis on brain development,” said public health professor Traci Toomey, the center’s inaugural director. “And the earlier people start using, there’s some concern that they may be more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder later in their life.”

The center also plans to prioritize research on how cannabis legalization affects public safety and health equity.

“What we see sometimes happens with other substances like alcohol and tobacco, is that sometimes some communities are disproportionately targeted by marketing, or maybe they have more of the stores or dispensaries in their neighborhood because some people want to buy the product, but they don’t want those stores in their neighborhood,” Toomey told MPR’s Minnesota Now, adding that the goal should be to ensure that marketing and distribution are fairly distributed across the state.

Recreational cannabis use for adults 21 and older became legal in the state in August. While some tribal dispensaries are open, others can’t open until state officials introduce a licensing system — which may not happen until early 2025.


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