As the normalization of cannabis takes the U.S. by storm, colleges across the nation are starting cannabis research and education programs.
One such program is City College of San Francisco’s (CCSF) new Cannabis Studies Associate of Arts degree. The Cannabis Studies major, according to the degree outline, will serve as an “introduction to the complex biopsychosocial relationship of humans to cannabis in multiple cultural, institutional, and interpersonal contexts.”
This month, Emerald got together with Jennifer “J” Dawgert-Carlin, the Chair of the Behavioral Sciences Department at CCSF, and Blayke Barker, Instructor of Sociology at CCSF. The Cannabis Studies degree is Dawgert-Carlin’s brainchild, while Barker played a key role in helping flesh out the degree and also created the required Intro to Cannabis Studies course.
The “Missing Piece”
The cannabis industry in San Francisco is booming. The City by the Bay has a reputation for being at the forefront of social and political change. Recognizing this, Dawgert-Carlin realized CCSF’s unique placement to “become a center for the vibrant and important conversations regarding the rapidly changing ideas related to cannabis and its users.”
But first and foremost, Dawgert-Carlin is a scientist; specifically, a psychotherapist and expert on behavioral sciences. She was motivated to start the CCSF program because of what she identified as a “missing piece” in cannabis programs nationwide.
“That was the sociological and anthropological approach,” says Dawgert-Carlin, “where does it sit culturally?”
In a survey, 80% of CCSF students said that they would be interested in learning about cannabis. The program had a prospective audience and a mission. CCSF fully supported the program and in February 2020, the Cannabis Studies A.A. degree was approved. Fall 2020 is the first semester that students will be able to enroll in the degree for both online and in-person instruction.
The major uses anthropology, biological psychology and sociology to examine, “the construction of cannabis as a product, psychoactive substance, a behavior, and a form of deviance, revolution, criminality, spirituality, and ethnomedicine; depending upon cultural standpoint, time and global location,” reads the program description.
A Story of Social Injustice
At the peak of the AIDS crisis, Dawgert-Carlin, then a young clinical psychologist, started working with people in prison who had been incarcerated for cannabis possession.
Being in San Francisco, known for many as the birthplace of counterculture, Dawgert-Carlin noted the disturbing distinction between white and BIPOC cannabis consumers. While white consumers were celebrated as care-free hippies, BIPOC were often incarcerated and labeled criminals.
Even though cannabis is now legal in California and a handful of other states, people are still suffering from the effects of targeted cannabis persecution.
This distinction continues to hold true throughout much of the U.S. According to an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Black Americans are almost four times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis possession in spite of similar usage rates.
Social justice lies at the forefront of the program’s approach to public policy, rhetoric and health.
It’s worth noting that CCSF works with the national non-profit organization, the Five Keys program, helping incarcerated people enroll in classes at the college. Barker also works as a continuing education instructor for incarcerated students at Five Keys.
Dawgert-Carlin continues to work with families recovering from the trauma of having a family member incarcerated for simple cannabis possession. She has even served as a foster parent for kids whose parents were jailed for cannabis, experiencing first hand the deep issues caused by what many perceive as just a “fun thing.”
Barker and Dawgert-Carlin both believe that programs like the Cannabis Studies A.A. degree can help get students back on track. In theory, cannabis studies will serve as a “gateway degree” for students looking to transfer into related disciplines like anthropology, sociology, public health, criminal justice or political science (to name a few).
By engaging in continued dialogue about the relationship between cannabis and society, the program aims to develop critical thinking and research skills.
The Future is Cannabis
2020 is the year everything changes. COVID-19 is forcing us to reconsider the basic structures that American society relies on to function. A new wave of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Mineappolis police on May 25th, demand that we abolish the cultural, administrative, and societal structures meant to suppress minority communities.
Cannabis just may prove to be the unexpected remedy for this year’s woes. Cannabis legalization or, at the very least, decriminalization, is an essential part of beginning to disassemble one of the main systems continually used to control and degrade BIPOC bodies. Additionally, the cannabis industry will soon dominate the economic landscape in America.
MJBizDaily estimates the total economic impact of legal cannabis sales in the U.S. could increase from $38 billion-$46 billion in 2019 to a whopping $130 billion by 2024.
More legal cannabis sales means more cannabis tax revenue. For a nation living in economic uncertainty, legal cannabis tax revenue could provide some much needed economic relief.
Cannabis has baggage. One cannot ethically work in the legal cannabis industry without understanding the full social, cultural, scientific and political history of it. Programs like CCSF’s Cannabis Studies A.A. degree may help educate the next generation of “canna-preneurs,” psychologists, social workers or policymakers.
With a rapidly growing cannabis industry and increasing legalization, the world demands cannabis experts with a deep understanding of the ethics, science and culture of cannabis consumption.
The Nitty Gritty
The minimum time to complete the program is four semesters. With options for online and in-person instruction, anyone interested can choose to take a deep dive and learn more about cannabis culture, history and science. The three required courses are: Introduction to Cannabis Studies, Anthropology of Cannabis and Psychology of Psychoactive Drugs.
The Introduction to Cannabis Course developed by Barker explores this exact question through the lens of social power and inequity. The course will provide a “historical analysis of the sociological study of cannabis and social identity, regulation and enforcement, criminalization and movements toward legalization.”
Anthropology of Cannabis will cover the human use of cannabis over time. Created by Dr. JV Amato, this course will look at archaeological evidence of cannabis use, historical symbolism and use of cannabis across cultures, as well as ethnographic studies of cannabis-related behaviors and ideologies. Only by understanding the vast geographical and cultural history of cannabis use can we begin to truly understand the present evolving cannabis landscape.
The Psychology of Psychoactive Drugs, originated by Dr. Karin Hu, tackles the universal interest in psychoactive drugs through an “exploration of the science, the hype, and the hope” in them. Dr. Hu’s course will focus on drugs commonly used to treat mental illnesses, and other drugs, like cannabis, which can be used to “enhance or diminish well being.” Ideally, the course should equip students with the ability to evaluate the scientific validity of positive and negative claims about an array of drugs.
All of these courses will be supplemented by various electives and general education requirements. However, anyone enrolled as CCSF is free to take any of the required or the elective courses. Electives include classes like Drug Wars in the Americas or Magic, Witchcraft and Religion.
Written by Sonia Case