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Professor talks marijuana history

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Nicholas Athey, instructor of sociology, discussed cannabis and its history, the events that led to its prohibition, why it is now becoming legal in some states, and the health benefits of consuming cannabis byproducts at the weekly faculty lecture Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. / photo by Brady Keegan

Araceli Macias
Staff Writer

Nicholas Athey, instructor of sociology at the University of La Verne, gave a presentation titled “Conducting Cannabis Policy Research During the Era of Post-Prohibition,” before about 14 students and faculty in the Campus Center Tuesday.

“I’m really trying to focus on this constructionist understanding of law…and how we can use that as a framework to understand changes in cannabis policy,” Athey said.

Athey started by sharing background information on cannabis use in the U.S. and terminology like “post-prohibition” and “decriminalization,” in order to understand his research.

He also talked about voter support of cannabis legalization.

“About 67% of Americans now support cannabis legalization or some form of legalized policy,” Athey said. 

“We look at how states vote for the presidential election in terms of whether they voted democratic or republican, it’s almost a mirror image…for cannabis policy,” Athey said.

Athey said that the more liberal states become, the more their restrictions on cannabis use decrease. He then shared some of the obstacles he faced while conducting research.

“Trying to distinguish what is legal and what is illegal can be a really difficult task just by itself,” Athey said.

Athey said that currently cannabis is federally prohibited but legal for recreational use in 18 states including California and D.C. However, it is fully prohibited in 16 states and only decriminalized in 17 states.

“We’re not operating under a system of complete prohibition but it’s also not quite legal yet either, and that makes things really difficult from a research standpoint,” Athey said.

Athey also said that if cannabis is not fully legalized then the distinction between medical and recreational use becomes difficult to define.

“Where’s the cutoff, where do we stop saying that this is for personal use and it’s now with intent to sell,” Athey said.

He said changes in policy have forced him to change his perspective.

“I’m a criminologist that’s stuck at a crossroads,” Athey said. “I’m interested in crime and policy but I’m also really interested in markets and (cannabis) using populations.” 

He said that he is used to studying this population under the lens of criminology but policy changes have created a lot of crossover between the business, sociology and advertising markets.

He then shared the three separate research projects he is currently working on.

The first one was titled, “State Cannabis Policy: A Predictive and Classification,” in which he plans to create a political topography of different cannabis policies at the state level. 

The second was titled, “Factors that Impeded Cannabis Policy Research During the Era of Post-Prohibition,” in which he will present the factors that impede comparative cannabis policy research in a post-prohibition era. 

The final project was titled “Cannabis Policy Liberalization: A Critical Discourse Analysis,” in which he will analyze politicians’ commentary on cannabis users.

Some of Athey’s students were present and shared their thoughts on the lecture.

Charlie Habib, sophomore legal studies and rhetoric communications major, said she most enjoyed learning about how much the statistics on cannabis tolerance differ nationwide.

“I didn’t realize how widely the nation was split,” Habib said.

Catherine Ursache, junior international business and foreign language major, said she found the lecture interesting but also somewhat overwhelming because of the scale of Athey’s project.

“I’m glad I came because it’s interesting to see what kind of studies are being done,” Ursache said.

Ursache also said she found Athey’s first project the most interesting because of the implications it would have on the sale of cannabis in future markets.

Natalie Rodriguez, junior criminology major, said she found it interesting how things in criminology correlate to other subjects.

“Overall, I just enjoyed listening to it,” Rodriguez said.

Araceli Macias can be reached at araceli.macias@laverne.edu.

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