Mayor Announces Cannabis Research Institute Coming To Chicago

Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot has announced the creation of the Cannabis Research Institute to study the health, commerce and policy implications of marijuana legalization.

Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot on Thursday announced the launch of the Cannabis Research Institute (CRI), a joint effort between the city and the Illinois state government touted as “a first-of-its-kind center in the Midwest that will further boost Illinois’ global standing as a science hub.” Topics of research to be investigated include the societal and community impacts of cannabis legalization and study into the effectiveness of cannabis and cannabinoids on medical conditions and improving cannabis plant varietals.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to not only promote Chicago as the center for highly-demanded cannabis research but expand the breadth of knowledge and science needed to shape policy,” Lightfoot said in a statement from the mayor’s office. “Our city is the perfect location, as we’re home to an impressive hub of innovation and world-class research universities and institutions. Leveraging and coordinating our city’s resources to create a top-tier cannabis research center will make waves in this new industry and set the precedent on cannabis research nationally.”

The CRI will be a joint effort between the state and city housed within the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), a Chicago-based innovation and research center that is part of the University of Illinois System. The new cannabis research center based at DPI in the downtown Chicago Loop will be tasked with providing “a robust body of research and data to advance public knowledge on scientific and socio-economic impacts of cannabis usage and production.” DPI has begun a search for an executive director to head the CRI, which is slated to roll out over the next few months.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, who took the helm to make the state the first to legalize recreational marijuana through the legislative process rather than the ballot box, hailed the launch of the new center to advance research into cannabis and its effects. Officials predict that the CRI “will be the premier research institute that seeks to promote equity and a desire to have an evidence-based, research-driven cannabis marketplace.”

“I am thrilled to announce the launch of the Cannabis Research Institute — a national first, creating actionable research to inform data-driven policymaking and advance public knowledge on the impacts of cannabis,” said Pritzker. “I can think of no better place than Illinois for this endeavor. We are the heart of the Midwest and at the very forefront of cannabis legalization — all while dismantling the long-lasting effects of the War on Drugs on our communities.”

Cannabis Research Hindered By Federal Policy

Officials note that despite the overwhelming support for legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical purposes, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. As a Schedule I substance under national drug laws, the federal government continues restrictive policies that hinder research into the benefits or potential harms of cannabis and cannabis products. 

“As a result, research on the health effects of cannabis has been limited in the United States, depriving patients, health care professionals, consumers, and policymakers the evidence they need to make sound decisions regarding its use,” the mayor’s office stated.

The CRI will pursue its mission by fostering collaborations and partnerships with a diverse set of stakeholders including city and state officials to ensure that cannabis research will inform regulatory efforts and public policy that protects health and safety. The center will also develop research programs designed to stimulate advancements in medicine, technology and science related to cannabis and conduct studies that address the impacts of new policies and markets on society.

“We now have years of experience building research teams across disciplines and across institutions,” said Bill Jackson, executive director of DPI. “We’re excited to forge new territory and partnerships, conducting research that will make our city safer and healthier — and our society more equitable.” 

Work at the center will also prioritize diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry by creating entry points for people of color including jobs and internships, research opportunities and partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities. The CRI will also support research and training with the Illinois Vocational Cannabis Program operated by the City Colleges of Chicago and other Illinois community colleges and host local education sessions in underserved neighborhoods of the state.

Future research planned for the CRI will cover a broad range of topics on the social equity impacts of legalization, the medicinal and health effects of cannabis and agricultural crop management practices. Examples cited by the mayor’s office include the “societal and community impacts of cannabis legalization; demographic gap analysis of medical cannabis programs; effectiveness of cannabis and cannabinoids on medical conditions, such as relieving anxiety and reducing inflammation; public health impacts of legalizing recreational cannabis use; and plant varietal improvement in controlled environmental conditions.”

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