While cannabis users anticipate recreational cannabis legalization efforts, one of the most promising aspects of such legalization involves research. Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, American scientists receive no federal funding and harsh restrictions when it comes to marijuana research. In other words, they operate with two hands tied behind their back.
That’s why scientists interested in cannabis research eagerly await Canada legalizing recreational marijuana. Though legislation has been delayed from its initial schedule this summer, the government still plans to unveil a system for recreational marijuana laws and sales in 2018. According to WIRED UK, this has everyone from academic researchers, investment firms, think tanks, and the cannabis industry itself excited about the possibilities once Canada goes fully operational. Why? One word: data.
With a population of 36 million people, Canada has the potential to become a hotbed for scientific studies related to cannabis. Researchers will finally be able to test with control groups and lab settings on a scale that isn’t currently possible thanks to government restrictions across the globe.
“Canada has an important opportunity to become leaders in the area of cannabis research,” Jason Busse, co-director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at Hamilton, Ontario’s McMaster University, told WIRED UK. “There’s a lot of interest in what’s happening here from researchers and producers in other countries.”
There’s almost no limit on the kind of data that will be gathered, either. When the information floodgates open, researchers from all fields—health, criminology, policy, economy and more—will be able to collect information they weren’t able to get before. Patricia Erikson, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, is particularly excited about the ability to conduct longitudinal studies, which is when researchers follow the same people year after year.
These types of studies, which can give researchers insights into the long-term impacts of cannabis use, have been difficult to do. Only one major cannabis-related longitudinal study has been done in the UK. But most people don’t want to share their drug consumption habits more than once, if at all. Ethical issues and a lack of funding have hampered research, too. “What we’re really missing in Canada is a really good study of users,” says Erickson.
We’ve mentioned this before, but most concerns politicians and pundits espouse against widespread cannabis legalization can usually be answered by good science and research. That’s why government agencies, scientists, and data analysts alike will have a keen eye toward Canada over the next few years as unprecedented cannabis research trickles out. So whenever Canadian residents and visitors toke up, just remember—it’s in the name of science.