Research and Reality in the Cannabis Industry (Pathways to Careers in Cannabis Research)
November 16, 2020
In the beginning of October, we had the pleasure of attending the “Pathways to Careers in Cannabis” webinar. A group comprised of both UNB and international students of all levels and disciplines were invited to join Danielle Connell, UNB’s Mitacs representative to learn about the opportunities available to students interested in studying cannabis. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about efforts here in New Brunswick to create internship and career paths and ways to access funding to conduct cannabis research at home (NB) and abroad (The Netherlands, or NL) while enrolled at UNB.
Speakers included Dr. Arno Hazekamp, Co-chair of the Legal Cannabis Coalition (LCC) in The Netherlands, Danielle Connell and Dr. Andrien Rackov, a leading research scientist at the Research and Productivity Council (RPC) here in Fredericton, NB.
Danielle has been a part of the many cohorts going back and forth to the Netherlands to create opportunities around horticulture and more recently and specifically, cannabis. She has been there for all the ups and downs of the industry and helping student researchers achieve their local and international research goals along the way.
Dr. Arno Hazekamp has been working in the cannabis industry since around 2009 when he began working with the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine. He would go on to work with the Netherlands’ only legal producer of cannabis, Bedrocan and finally created his own consultancy in 2016, which lead to him being a Co-Founder of the Legal Cannabis Coalition
Andrien Rackov has been working with RPC ever since his Mitacs internship during his time at UNB. RPC has been an instrumental part of the research and testing ecosystem for cannabis producers in Canada for the past decade and it currently analyzes roughly 40% of all cannabis tested in the country.
We were pleased with the very large turnout of students and industry participants interested in the cannabis industry (it needs them) and by the mention of the Legal Cannabis Coalition and New Brunswick’s connection to them; for more on that visit: https://bionb.org/seeds-of-the-past-sow-opportunity-for-the-path-forward/
Danielle discussed several Mitacs internship programs, but the main focus was the Globalink program, which will be the vehicle to mobilize the first cohort of cannabis interns. Globalink is a purely academic program meant to build and strengthen academic connections between universities in New Brunswick and the Netherlands. The program is open to senior undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows of ANY DISCIPLINE. “We’re talking research in all disciplines in cannabis”.
While the Mitacs portion was straight forward, Arno’s discussions were broader and at times, philosophical. He began by showcasing that traditional industries have a straightforward pipeline model, while cannabis does not.
Cannabis is so much more than just a flower. Arno’s message was to showcase the various opportunities available to students and researchers in the cannabis industry; and there were many. Discussing the importance of knowing what you want to do and where you want to go was a central theme. Cannabis may seem like an exciting opportunity for youth, and it is, but Arno wanted to temper expectations for the long-term satisfaction you can achieve by working in a lab or a grow room.
Cannabis is currently a catalyst for the much larger, socially relevant and multi-disciplinary conversations. BioNB and many of the attendees work in scientific fields, but that does not mean those in other fields such as the social sciences should not be a part of the conversation with us. “What is legal and what should be?” asks Arno rhetorically. Do we want “cannabis Walmarts” in an industry that has been historically driven by small scale cultivators? What is in cannabis vapor when smoked in a joint vs smoked in a vaporizer? These questions and hundreds more present the gargantuan opportunity for research in the cannabis industry.
Andrien then spoke about his path to RPC, which started as a Mitacs internship and now that RPC is expanding, Andrien mentioned, his team are looking to fill a newly created position at RPC for a postdoc specializing in molecular/microbiology. This will be the first of many Mitacs internships in the cannabis ecosystem.
There are many applied research projects at RPC, and it’s hard to succinctly discuss just how much they do to advance our understanding of cannabis, but we feel as though they did a great job of that in the photo below.
In a very direct, breath of fresh air kind of way, Arno ended the presentations by briefly discussing the myths and realities of cannabis and the industry in order to mitigate expectations. As we mentioned, cannabis may seem like an exciting opportunity for youth, and it is, but there are many things to take into consideration. By taking part in an internship BEFORE graduation, students are exposed to the ecosystem so that they will have an understanding of the gaps that need to be filled. The benefits are two-fold as you will have a full year of experience under your belt, better preparing you to enter the cannabis workforce.
As with any industry, the roads are not all paved in gold. We have all seen in the news, the industry reacted too quickly, government moved too slowly in some jurisdictions and the misalignments and the unknowns have cost people a lot of money. Lessons have been learned though and are being applied to future decision making, especially the implementation of scientific rigour to ensure safety, consistency and actionable data.
This is just the beginning. The 1st cohort will begin their work in the NB-NL network as early as Spring 2021. The following cohorts will involve industry partnerships on both sides of the Atlantic.
If you would like to connect with anybody from this webinar, feel free to reach out to BioNB’s Marketing and Communications Director, Andrew Byrne, at firstname.lastname@example.org