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Last year, Clark University in Worcester began offering a graduate certificate program for cannabis regulatory affairs, a first-of-its-kind educational opportunity for the newly legal marijuana industry. In February, Jennifer Roy, founder of Worcester marketing firm Jen Roy PR, was in the first class to complete the program. She talked with WBJ about the program and its benefits.
Why did you enroll in the marijuana program at Clark?
I have had cannabis business owners reach out to me about doing public relations for them, and I wanted to learn the marketing regulations for the industry.
More importantly, I have spent the past 10 years as a mental health advocate and cancer research fundraiser in my personal time. I believe cannabis will have a huge impact on mental health and cancer care and I plan to advocate for increased research and to destigmatize cannabis use through public education and awareness initiatives. People need to understand the research and data.
Massachusetts is poised to be the leading state in cannabis research and policy thanks to the tremendous universities and hospitals here.
What was one of the most interesting things you learned?
I would say two of the most interesting things I learned in this program is the history of how cannabis was criminalized and the fact that we all have an endocannabinoid system.
The history is so incredibly frustrating. In 1930, Harry Anslinger was appointed the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics; he previously was quoted saying cannabis was not a problem, but when Prohibition ended, he needed a new enemy to fight in order to keep his job. So he began a vicious campaign of negative propaganda and lies against marijuana and aligned himself with large oil and lumber magnates whose empires would have crumbled if the manufacturing of hemp continued. Anslinger outright destroyed and denounced research reports claiming cannabis was harmless and played into xenophobic fears as the Mexican Revolution brought immigrants to the U.S. with recreational uses for cannabis. U.S. politicians began labeling cannabis “marijuana” to make it sound more authentically Mexican at a time of extreme prejudice.
In 1937, marijuana became illegal with the Marijuana Tax Act.
In terms of the endocannabinoid system, endocannabinoids are molecules made by your body, and cannabis is the only plant that makes cannabinoids. Experts believe the ECS’s primary role is to maintain homeostasis in order for the body to function ideally. Your body produces endocannabinoids as needed. In order to keep the ECS system strong, people take CBD, eat fruits and vegetables and participate in other healthy habits.
What do you plan to do with your new knowledge?
I created a blog called Crazy Cat Lady Cannabis to share my new knowledge with new cannabis consumers as a way to educate and inspire people to make informed and responsible decisions regarding recreational and medical cannabis use.
Also, as someone who formerly viewed cannabis as a gateway drug, I hope to share the data and research actually proving otherwise.
The most important thing this graduate degree taught me was the importance of relying on science and data to inform your ideas and opinions.
What do you think will happen in the marijuana industry in the coming years?
We will see federal legalization in the U.S. in this decade, which will enable banking. We will likely have roadside test kits to determine more accurately if a person was intoxicated from cannabis while driving. We will have social consumption cafes and hopefully more accurate data on the impacts of medical and recreational legalization to help form future policies.
I do hope the industry prioritizes creating responsible consumers, and we curb the opioid crisis by using cannabis as an accepted alternative to assist those addicted to opioids. I hope cannabis helps us find a cure for cancer. I hope anyone jailed or negatively impacted by nonviolent cannabis crimes can benefit economically from an industry that so unjustly punished them. Additionally, we can use the cannabis industry to correct the mistakes we’ve made as a society with the tobacco and alcohol industries.
What are your long-term career ambitions?
I’m coming into this industry with 20 years of journalism and public relations experience, so I originally thought I would go into cannabis marketing. But I am becoming more interested in policymaking, medical research advocacy, and in ensuring the industry effectively implements social equity and economic empowerment programs helping those disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.
I want to help make up for the lost time the U.S. has suffered in researching this medicinal plant as a result of its criminalization. People are finding relief from cannabis products everyday, and it is unconscionable to prevent future research and treatments.
What did you learn about your classmates in the program?
My classmates were a large part of the incredible education I received in this program. They were farmers, nurses, sales people in the alcohol industry, lawyers, policymakers, and cannabis entrepreneurs. Being able to discuss controversial topics and decisions behind policy-making each week for several months with this diverse group of professionals was invaluable and eye-opening.
Anything else to add?
Yes. Stop the stigma. Cannabis is a medicinal plant with great healing potential. Researchers have recently identified an antibacterial compound made by cannabis plants that may serve as a lead for new drug development published in the journal American Chemical Society Infectious Diseases!
A few years ago, Dana Farber entered into a partnership with Cannabis Science, Inc. to develop and investigate the use of cannabinoids to cure various cancers, investigate synergies with radiotherapy and immunotherapy, and obtain certain data and rights to inventions developed during research funded by CBIS. We need to come together as a society to advocate for the advanced research of cannabis and to enhance the positives of cannabis and decrease any negatives.
With proper education and awareness we can proceed with an aggressive and robust cannabis industry agenda that will be beneficial to the healthcare of all.
This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Editor Brad Kane.