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WSU’s cannabis research center names new leaders

Tall cannabis plants growing in a field.
Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

Faculty with complementary expertise in plant biochemistry and human health will take the helm of Washington State University’s Center for Cannabis Policy, Research, and Outreach(CCPRO) at a time when the legal landscape around cannabis is shifting, opening up new research opportunities.  

David Gang, professor in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, will serve as the center’s director. He specializes in the study of medicinal plants, and his current projects include a three-state partnership to improve hemp germplasm. Tracy Klein, associate professor in the College of Nursing in Vancouver, will serve as CCPRO’s assistant director. She brings research expertise in public policy and prescribing patterns as well as controlled substance prescribing and mental health pharmacotherapeutics.

David Gang

The pair is taking over from Professor Michael McDonnell of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine who oversaw the formation of a collaboration of cannabis researchers grow into a formal center. The center now has more than 100 researchers working on cannabis-related issues. Gang hopes to build on that further to make WSU the place the nation turns to for research on cannabis, especially as policies start to change.

“We’re at a point where we’re going to see changes legally around cannabis, and we need to make sure that our state is prepared, that our citizens’ interests are met and their safety is protected,” said Gang.

“We have quite a broad and deep collection of cannabis researchers at WSU. I am interested in helping connect people in different research projects to come up with new ideas and ways to solve problems that we’re facing in the state and nation.”

WSU’s work has already helped inform federal policy. For instance, after the 2018 Farm bill legalized hemp production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked the Washington State Department of Agriculture to evaluate sampling methods for proposed for regulatory compliance testing. WSU researchers were then brought in to conduct the series of hemp sampling experiments that led to recommendations to USDA.

Tracy Klein

WSU was an early leader in cannabis research in a state that was the first to legalize cannabis, and CCPRO researchers are undertaking a range of cannabis-related projects, including potential medicinal applications, mental health impacts, use during pregnancy, youth access, legalization effects on crime, and the growth of hemp for industrial use.

Currently, research can be challenging due to cannabis’ conflicted legal status, where it is legal in the state of Washington but still classified as a Schedule 1 drug on the federal level, which puts many constraints on how it can be studied. For the first time last year, a few companies were given permission to grow cannabis for research, one of which, the Biopharmaceutical Research Company, has partnered with WSU.

With other federal measures under consideration and more states expected to legalize cannabis, Gang expects more research opportunities to open up.

“I am really encouraging all faculty who might be interested in cannabis research to join us,” Gang said. “Though in the past, we’ve been restricted in what we could do, that’s changing. There are a lot of research directions that WSU faculty can now pursue, and we’re going to see that opened up even more in the next couple of years.”

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