When people hear about collegiate marijuana research, they might conjure up images of a group of students in the basement of an ivy-covered building, getting high in a lab and watching Parks and Rec while being hooked up to electrodes. But the reality of cannabis research is likely much more sober (pun intended) than that — not to mention more significant, given how little academic research has historically been devoted to marijuana research in the first place.
Bob Broderick, the founder of a Manhattan-based global equity firm, wants to change that. He has just donated $9 million to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study the effects of marijuana on the brain, which he says may be the largest private donation to go towards cannabis research. The donation will fund the universities’ research into the basic biology of cannabis — a field of research that has historically been poorly funded and highly taboo. (Recreational marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, which makes it easier for the research to take place at the Boston-based schools.)
“I want to destigmatize the conversation around cannabis — and, in part, that means providing facts to the medical community, as well as the general public,” Broderick, a graduate of both Harvard and MIT, who was also an active investor in Canada’s growing legal marijuana market, told the Harvard Gazette. “Then we’re all working from the same information. We need to replace rhetoric with research.”
Although cannabis is illegal in the United States on the federal level (recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 states, while medical marijuana is legal in 33), the growing marijuana legalization movement has led to increasing social acceptance of the plant. More than half of Americans currently support legalization, according to a Pew Research poll, and many of the Democratic candidates for president have been vocal in their support of the cause.
That said, reliable research on marijuana’s health effects is scant, due to the historically stigmatized nature of the substance, logistic hurdles from federal agencies like the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), and federal funding being stalled under the Trump administration. Additionally, the lack of substantive research on marijuana has created room for people both pro- and anti-legalization camps to make wild claims about supposed health benefits and drawbacks. That’s why Broderick intends to use his gift to fill the vacuum in marijuana research. “My thought is that this is the largest gift to support cannabis research, but it’s not going to be the largest for long,” he told radio station WBUR.