Higher Education

HSU brings pot thought to the ivory tower with a marijuana studies working group

| April 28, 2011

Associate Professor Ronnie Swartz leaned back, looking remarkably comfortable in the decidedly uncomfortable chairs of room 115 in Humboldt State University's Siemen's Hall. Swartz, a man with salt-and-pepper hair and a young face, had just finished delivering a presentation on the use of medical marijuana in substance abuse treatment programs. Now in his 11th year at HSU and his second year as chair of the Department of Social Work, Swartz said the local region's well-established reputation as a marijuana mecca doesn't bother him.

"There are bigger problems out there. The marijuana stigma just sort of is," he said. Rather than ignore or combat that "stigma," Swartz has decided to analyze the industry behind it as a member of HSU's Marijuana Studies Working Group.

Swartz's lecture was one third of a three-part presentation that the working group held last Friday. The other two presenters were Sociology graduate student Colin Trujillo, who presented his Master's thesis, Marijuana, Mexico and the Media, and Economics Professor Erick Eschker, who outlined his plans to track monthly production of marijuana in Humboldt County.

The working group is an interdisciplinary collection of faculty, mainly from the social sciences, who meet once or twice a month, according to Associate Professor of Sociology Josh Meisel, who coordinated Friday's presentations. "About eight faculty members meet monthly and additional faculty and staff members are on our mailing list," Meisel said. "Collectively we are researching the social, health, economic and environmental impacts of marijuana. Our long-term vision is to create a national center for interdisciplinary research on marijuana."

Meisel said that given the cultural and financial significance of cannabis in the so-called Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, HSU is well positioned for this research. "Beyond our geographic proximity to marijuana-growing areas and the communities impacted, we have a faculty and institutional vision that places emphasis on environmental responsibility and social justice. We're interested in capitalizing on this geographic advantage and international reputation."

Friday's presentation, which was attended by roughly 20 people -- including a surprise appearance by HSU President Rollin Richmond, who has often lamented the negative effects of local marijuana production -- was only the second of its kind.

"This is a much better turnout compared to last year's event," said Meisel. "President Richmond's attendance at this forum is indicative of his understanding of the importance of an active research agenda in this area for HSU."

Professor Eschker said he'd like to add marijuana production data to the Humboldt Economic Index, a monthly report on the county's economy. Currently the index tracks six sectors of the local economy: employment, manufacturing, home sales, retail sales, hospitality and electricity consumption. Eschker believes that an accurate measure of marijuana production will show that it has a strong correlation with county employment.

That accurate measure will be no mean feat, however. Eschker aims to document the number of one-pound bags of dried, trimmed marijuana produced in Humboldt County every month. This undertaking is difficult for obvious reasons -- the main one being a lack of willing data providers. Legal producers and distributors -- those associated with medical marijuana dispensaries -- are generally receptive to providing information. Illegal growers? Not so much.

"While we are trying to go out in the hills and find people off the grid, we are relying heavily on key inputs like outdoor trimming machines and turkey bags," said Eschker. (Turkey bags, valued for their scent-concealing properties, are often used to package and transport marijuana.) "We can track marijuana production by tracking marijuana-related goods," Eschker explained.

He's hopeful that this indirect data will make up for a lack of direct data. He and his student interns have found several retailers and dispensaries that are on board for the project.

But the esteemed professor hasn't given up on finding assistance from the underground economy. "I don't need a name and I don't need an address," said Eschker. "I just need a contact number where I can reach the person once a month. Anyone interested in being a part of the index can contact me directly."

Eschker, along with Swartz, hopes the formation of a center or an institute will put faculty in a stronger position to apply for research funding.

"Right now we are trying to find the best way to gain legitimacy," Swartz said. "We are acting thoughtfully, purposefully and cautiously."

It looks like Swartz doesn't need to worry about resistance from the university's administration: Richmond supports the working group. "Even though Humboldt ranks seventh or eighth out of pot-producing counties in the state of California we still have that reputation as a large marijuana producer," the university president said. "We are not going to get rid of that notion, so why not take advantage of it?"

Comments (8)

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"...we'll get around to researching local impacts of: the 6th largest extinction event in life's history on Earth; the highest unemployment since the Depression; the greatest income disparity since the Gilded Age; the 1-in-3 cancer epidemic, the lack of local water-capacity studies and low-impact ordinances in a world of depleting clean water and energy; the continuing foreclosure and bankruptcy pandemic amid more job exports, overseas tax havens and additional tax-cuts for the rich...and the increasing impacts of these uncomfortable realities on public education budgets....LATER IF EVER..."

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Posted by Behold on 04/29/2011 at 1:04 PM

Here at HSU, we are actually already studying ALL of the things you mention. You should take some classes here, you could learn a lot! :)

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Posted by A Nonny Mouse on 04/29/2011 at 5:50 PM

Are you studying how many protests at HSU regarding cirriculum reductions and tuition increases identical to the one just staged have occured over the years? Are you studying what either the faculty or the students have done in the wake of said protests? Are you studying how you can make a luxury living fishing for research grants well into your senior years?

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Posted by HSU went to shite long ago on 04/29/2011 at 6:10 PM

"A NONNY MOUSE" : I noticed you didn't bother backing up your claims with a single example. Is that because: At HSU, there is no degree, no prerequisite, and no single course whatsoever in labor history, despite students hoping to work half their waking life? At HSU, there are no units in social activism tailored to each degree, if a student wanted to improve or change a field they love, as opposed to how much they can earn? At HSU, there's no prerequisite, nor unit offered in contract law 101 despite the fact that students engage in them repeatedly each day. (Sign the paper and shut up!)? At HSU, there's no prerequisite nor unit offered in diplomacy or negotiation despite the fact that half of U.S. marriages fail? At HSU, there's no prerequisite nor unit offered in advocacy, in case a student might want to assist themselves or others one day. At HSU, there's no course offered in comparative justice, as if the one imposed upon you must be accepted. I recently spoke to a history instructor who's "a little nervous" about reintroducing a course at HSU in imperialism next semester. Never-mind that it effectively and accurately describes our foreign policy....forever. Most of these examples were offered by Ralph Nader in 1999 to illustrate to HSU students how they are actually getting their degree in "harmony ideology, not unlike German campuses in the 1930's". Without these relevant subjects, your desire to assert change in a world where every measurable biological and economic indicator is in rapid decline, is profoundly compromised. At HSU, they don't teach this either, and if they did, students would have walked-out long ago.

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Posted by BEHOLD on 05/02/2011 at 9:32 PM

I received my degree in Liberal Studies with a minor in Psychology from HSU. Out of the four colleges that I attended, HSU has the most liberal constructs allowing faculty to teach students how to think for themselves and question the systems that keep us all pacified. The responsibility of our apathetic society lays on us all. We can't depend on an arm of the system to change the system. It must be done with community involvement from those that fiscally support the system. Everything comes down to the dollar these days, no matter how backwards the concept is. Yes Ralph Nader is correct that colleges are feeding students an agenda. The only way for change to happen is for students to call for it; however, how can they call for something that they don't even know exists. It is a bit of a catch 22 that I have seen many professors fighting with over the years. All I am saying is actions speak louder than words. All in all, no my education did not teach me every truth but it did light a spark in me that many of my peers from other colleges don't have. More needs to be done, but I am thankful for what is being done. Once again it is up to us all to call for an honest systems.

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Posted by KC on 05/03/2011 at 5:57 PM

"Out of the four colleges that I attended, HSU has the most liberal constructs allowing faculty to teach students how to think for themselves and question the systems that keep us all pacified." Hate to wonder what those other colleges were like. They don't even let students make bongs in ceramics at HUMBOLDT State University.

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Posted by HA! on 05/03/2011 at 6:23 PM

"The only way for change to happen is for students to call for it; however, how can they call for something that they don’t even know exists"?Comment / By KC / Today, 5:57 p.m. If HSU were a "liberal" campus, you wouldn't be asking that question! This is not a "catch 22"! It's called an effective tyranny, the kind that citizens don't even realize they're part of! KC, for a psychology graduate from a "liberal university" you seem tremendously confused. "Actions speak louder than words", and yet, change requires that people hear the truth (words) before they begin organizing! In fact, you've already illustrated the success of your social indoctrination by ignoring the examples, (uncomfortable truths that I provided you), that illustrate a profound level of academic irrelevance at HSU! Instead, you chose to redirect that discomfort to more positive "thankfulness for what's being done". You see KC, for uncomfortable truths to be believed and acted upon, they must be repeated, discussed, and debated from many sources....instead, you shut-out the facts just like academia, government, industry, media, and movies that repeat one overbearing message: "we live in a world of plenty for the deserving". "BE HAPPY, STAY POSITIVE, THE GLASS IS HALF-FULL, BE THANKFUL!!! (Which greatly explains HSU's annual investment of millions of dollars on its entertainment venues). It's certainly quaint to always remain positive, but what's required is the kind of widespread outrage and media reporting that once-upon-a-time ended the Vietnam war and took down Richard Nixon! I wonder if the hundreds of highly educated U.S. psychologists, physicians, and staff who actively participated in torture at Abu-Graibe and Guantanamo also felt they were "independent thinkers"? Scary thought.

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Posted by BEHOLD on 05/04/2011 at 1:32 AM

Groew free pot everywhere. who needs colliges it a scam anyway. GROEW POT FOOD IS GOOD 4 YOU.

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Posted by Naked Bill on 05/10/2011 at 10:55 AM
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