While the marijuana legalization tug-of-war is being fought by outdated ideology on one side, and empirical scientific evidence on the other. A handful of students at UCLA Luskin school of Public affairs have been feverishly gathering data, with the end goal of unraveling marijuana’s fact from fiction.
As UCLA is centrally located in West Los Angeles, Bridget Freisthler, a social welfare professor is organizing her group of student researchers and sending them out to canvass the many medical marijuana collectives that dot Southern California landscape. Their mission is to try and gather information from an otherwise tightlipped group. Surveying the collective owners, their volunteers and patients; willing to speak openly and honestly – inquiring how marijuana benefits their lives, and what if any impact a collective may have on their surrounding community.
Despite Californians passing prop 215, and the subsequent passing of SB 420. The California Supreme Court handed down their opinion earlier this month… and things went south from there. Siding with local municipalities and cities across the Golden State, the California Supreme Court ruled that local governments maintain the ability to ban medicinal marijuana collectives, should they feel the need.
A team of four researchers spends roughly three hours at each dispensary location, which are selected at random to represent a range of economic and geographical circumstances. Patients are given a $20 as incentive in return for completing a 5-minute questionnaire, with the option of collecting a $30 gift card if they agree to take part in a second, more comprehensive survey.
The Friday evening traffic at Green Kiss produced a steady stream of respondents, and the team hit their target of 20 completed patient surveys with time to spare.
As the team member responsible for recruiting locations at which data is gathered, second-year Social Welfare student Elizabeth Schaper has seen dispensaries of all stripes.
“I have been in places where they take it extremely seriously. They’ve given patients printouts of the different chemical compounds that are most active in each strain,” she said. “Some of the employees actually have medical backgrounds, and they’ll ask you ‘What is that you really need?’ and then point you in the direction of the right strain.
“And then I’ve walked into places that are basically a drug dealer in a closet,” she said.
Despite her intimate knowledge of L.A.’s dispensary scene and her colleagues’ track record of producing solid data, Schaper is reluctant to wade into the political debate. “I think it’s one of those things where I know too much to make a good decision about it,” she said. “
Academic evenhandedness aside, the researchers aren’t ignorant of the real-world implications of their work. Schaper hopes that a more informed discussion about marijuana use in America will help shed light on informal sources of health care, especially for those who have undiagnosed mental health problems.
Hamilton takes a bit of pride in the fact that her work will help steer policy on an issue that’s experiencing a unique historical moment. “That really energized me to become involved in the project,” she said.
“It feels like one of those things you’ll look back on in 20 years and say to your kids, ‘I was there when this was happening.’”