“My vision is Massachusetts could be the number one leading cannabis research state in the world,” McNabb said.
How to deal with marijuana is a major national policy question. Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, 29 states allow medical marijuana and another eight allow recreational marijuana. Policymakers routinely debate questions such as the impact of marijuana on opioid addiction, the drug’s safety, and the effects of marijuana on driving.
But experts say factual information is hard to come by because of a lack of scientific research.
Now, Massachusetts may have the potential to change that — if researchers can overcome the hurdles.
“Given the investment in technology, the staggering array of biotech and scientific expertise, it virtually ensures Massachusetts will be an important player,” said Staci Gruber, director of MIND, Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery, at McLean Hospital in Belmont.
The state law legalizing marijuana authorizes licenses for marijuana research facilities, defined as an academic institution, nonprofit or corporation. Such facilities are allowed to cultivate or buy marijuana for the purpose of conducting research. A research facility cannot sell marijuana. Applications for research facility licenses opened May 1.
McNabb is CEO and co-founder of the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network, a Somerville-based research start-up formed in January 2017. She spent the last year urging state lawmakers to adopt a research agenda for cannabis. Her organization runs education and networking events on cannabis science.
McNabb said the organization plans to do its own research. It also aims to create an online portal where researchers can share findings and data.
“Now, someone publishes one study on cannabis and opioids, another looks at youth prevention, they’re all in silos,” McNabb said, adding that a place for open sharing of data could “drive science and evidence-based practices” and inform policy.