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Budding Los Angeles: Intersection of cannabis and educational institutions may soon normalize usage

For the final installment of “Budding Los Angeles,” columnist John Tudhope discusses opportunities abundant to UCLA students in the cannabis world. From networking clubs to research initiatives, campus resources allow students a future in this growing industry. (Sim Beauchamp/Daily Bruin)

By John Tudhope

March 4, 2019 10:32 p.m.

This post was updated March 5 at 3:09 p.m.

Thirty years ago, buying cannabis was difficult, expensive and illegal. Buying cannabis in 2019 is somewhere between picking up a prescription from a pharmacy and buying beer from a liquor store. Join columnist John Tudhope each week as he visits cannabis companies in Los Angeles and discusses the budding industry.

I would imagine that the majority of conversations at UCLA regarding cannabis center around how to buy it and where to consume it.

But that’s changing.

Student groups on campus are eyeing the booming industry for jobs, creating events focused on social equity and engineering creative solutions to connect other students with cannabis business owners. Three distinct groups on campus – Cannaclub at UCLA, Cannabis Law Association and Cannabis Business Association – offer opportunities in the industry for undergraduate, law school and business school students. Meanwhile, UCLA’s own Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior is home to the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative – a coalition of researchers focused on cannabis and its broader impacts in society. All of these groups are focused on one thing: objectivity in the gravely misconceived topic that is cannabis.

After decades of criminalization, stigma and fear surrounding cannabis, it will take spaces such as established universities and research centers to provide reliable, fact-based information about the potential benefits – and dangers – of consuming cannabis. For students, the easiest way to access this information and enter the world of cannabis is through one of UCLA’s cannabis clubs.

The undergraduate cannabis networking club, Cannaclub, hosts a variety of events. These include panel discussions on representation in the industry, as well as more straightforward seminars about business, responsible consumption and local LA cannabis law.

Cannaclub hosted an event Wednesday called “Being Black in Cannabis,” bringing four black business owners to campus. The event focused on entrepreneurship and social equity, featuring an extended dialogue about the issues black people have historically faced within the context of cannabis, as well as the issues and opportunities they have in the new legal industry.

[RELATED: Budding Los Angeles: Promise of a booming industry is bringing investment firm interest to cannabis]

The panelists pointed out the unfortunate fact that while black and brown communities have endured the worst of the war on drugs, they often have the least access to participate in the new legal industry. Whitney Beatty, one of the featured guests, a board member of Supernova Woman and CEO of Apothecarry, said black women get about $40,000 in venture capital funding for every $1,500,000 that white men get.

Just last quarter, Cannaclub also hosted a “Women in Cannabis” panel. Cannaclub co-founder Maha Haq, a fifth-year sociology and mathematics student, said a goal of organizing such events is to spark dialogue about the issues marginalized groups face in cannabis. Haq said promoting the cannabis industry is important to her, especially in a traditionally alcohol-oriented environment. She believes cannabis has the ability to displace alcohol as the preeminent recreational drug for college students.

“Cannabis is becoming more accepted among college students,” she said. “It’s not always about beer pong, and it’s not always about wanting to get drunk.”

While beer pong is undoubtedly fun, I agree with Haq. I see more and more people willing to try cannabis, and many people favoring weed over alcohol to unwind. Living in a neighborhood where puddles of vomit are commonplace – and stumbling freshmen even more so – I believe an alternative option for some weekend fun is essential for the UCLA community.

Meanwhile, the Cannabis Business Association and the Cannabis Law Association primarily serve the students in graduate programs, discussing topics specific to business and law, respectively. UCLA recently co-hosted a law panel that aimed to introduce cannabis law to curious students.

[RELATED: Budding Los Angeles: Growing industry attracts young attorneys to cannabis law]

Jonathan Dolgin, a graduate law student and CLA founder, said the event primarily served law students who were new to cannabis, and allowed for a realistic discussion surrounding the exponential growth of the cannabis industry, detailing the role attorneys are going to play in the process. Dolgin said law students interested in cannabis law are preparing themselves to service these businesses in the same way they would with any other industry.

As someone who has worked in multiple law firms, it is a little ironic to see people like Dolgin in an extremely conservative industry interested in something as historically countercultural as cannabis. The only way I’d ever go back to working in a law firm is if they allow me to smoke a doobie on the job – unlikely. That being said, it is exciting for me to see cannabis enter conservative spaces, continuing to bring people together as it always has.

It seems to me that UCLA’s fast-growing cannabis community is centered on objectivity, taking special care to hear all voices involved in the conversation. While the future is always unpredictable, I believe the rise in the popularity of cannabis will continue steadily. I believe cannabis is objectively less harmful than alcohol, has massive therapeutic potential and will create billions of dollars in economic growth. UCLA should capitalize on and promote these benefits.

After two solid months of delving into the industry and seeing the entrepreneurial wave that is legal cannabis, I have a few final observations. First: There is money to be made. Second: Not everyone is going to succeed. And third: Being a student at UCLA puts one in the best possible position to thrive in the industry – don’t miss your chance.

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John Tudhope | Alumnus
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