UB expert weighs in on nation’s experiment with legal cannabis

Portrait of R. Lorraine Collins.

UB researcher R. Lorraine Collins, PhD, discusses cannabis legalization and more in UB podcast. Photo: Douglas Levere

Release Date: November 7, 2023


BUFFALO, N.Y. – As of this year, medical cannabis is legal in 37 states and in the District of Columbia, while 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for adult recreational use. 

It is a huge national experiment, and few are better positioned to speak to the pros and cons than R. Lorraine Collins, PhD, an expert in addictive behaviors who has been researching cannabis for decades, and who served on a governor-appointed committee in 2018 to draft the legislation that would become New York State’s recreational cannabis program.

A SUNY Distinguished Professor, associate dean for research in the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, and director of UB’s Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, Collins is the latest guest on Driven to Discover, the podcast from University Communications that explores UB research through candid conversations with the researchers about their inspirations, their goals and the journey that led them to where they are now.

In a wide-ranging interview with host David Hill, Collins recalls how a malt liquor study got her interested in researching cannabis; why she’s an advocate for its legalization; what New York State has gotten right, and what it hasn’t, in regard to both medical and recreational cannabis; the racist history behind cannabis being designated a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government; and how that classification continues to this day to impede critical research.

As a young researcher in addictive behaviors, Collins studied obesity and then alcohol. A surprise finding from a National Institutes of Health-funded study she led examining malt liquor consumption among young adults provided the crumb of curiosity that led her to look further into cannabis.

“One of the things that really struck me was that about 50% of our sample reported that they use cannabis on a regular basis,” she says. “That was completely unexpected.”

Collins had a front-row seat for New York State’s entry into the legalization of recreational cannabis through the panel on which she served. But she also paid careful attention to the state’s efforts before that to legalize medical marijuana. Regarding both programs, she has much to say on what New York State has done well (e.g., product safety) and where it has fallen short (data collection).

Concerning the latter, says Collins, “We just don’t know enough. We’re kind of blindly going forward with legislators who are motivated by a wide range of concerns, but less so about understanding what we’re doing here.”

At least we’re not Nevada, which Collins calls the “Wild West” for its utter lack of regulations. “In Nevada, you can buy a product that’s 90% THC, which is overkill,” says Collins. “So we’re not doing that.”

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