By, Stacie Stukin
Growing up in Cancún, Mexico, Eugenio Castro Garza, 19, saw how America’s war on drugs bolstered drug cartel violence in his community. When it was time to apply to college, he picked University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) so he could witness firsthand implementation of legal cannabis in California and get a job in the industry.
“My long term-plan is to become an expert and advocate for cannabis legalization in Mexico or a regulated market that collects taxes. I believe if we take away the profit, it might take away the violence,” Castro Garza told Marijuana.com.
It’s too soon to tell if legalization in the United States has affected cartel profits or decreased violence, but according to the McClatchy DC Bureau, the amount of marijuana crossing the border from Mexico to the United States has decreased by 66 percent in six years, from 2.53 million pounds in 2011 to about 861,00 pounds in 2017.
In the meantime, Castro Garza is using his time stateside to learn as much as he can about the science, policy and business of cannabis. That’s why in February of 2018 the political science major founded the UCLA Cannaclub – the first student club dedicated to cannabis.
“I didn’t want to create the impression that we were a bunch of stoners trying to get high,” he explained. “The goal is to start a non-biased, objective conversation about cannabis to help end the stigma, encourage education and connect students with opportunity in the (cannabis) industry.”
Castro’s mission also dovetails with UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative (CRI), one of the first academic programs dedicated to Cannabis and founded in 2017 by physician Dr. Jeff Chen, who is executive director. The initiative studies cannabis’ therapeutic use, health risks, and effects in social, legal, and economic fields.
With more than 40 academics on board initiating research, Chen admitted it could take years for the CRI to get a cannabis course into the curriculum.
“Any new topic takes a long time to get an official course listing and we’ve found students want to know now,” Chen said.
Enter Castro Garza, who with Chen’s assistance has designed a not-for-credit cannabis 101 course. Chen will be the first lecturer and cover cannabis plant biology and the endocannabinoid system.
“The demand is here,” said Castro Garza. “Cannabis is so ubiquitous on campus, but people don’t know much about the science, the history or what they’re consuming.” The course will include five classes and cover additional topics such as cannabis history, the regulatory climate, the business of marijuana and responsible use and safety.
Currently 25 students have enrolled and there are 500 students on the Cannaclub mailing list. “We have all different kinds of students. Some are into the science and want to go pre-med and learn about the endocannabinoid system; a lot are entrepreneurs interested in going into the industry; and others are pre-law and want to learn about policy, regulation, and the cannabis legal landscape. Then, there’s your average consumer student who wants to become knowledgeable and informed about what they’re consuming.”
Castro Garza said he wants to take the stigma out of cannabis education and hopes the enthusiasm for this class will convince the UCLA administration to offer the course for credit. In the meantime, the classes will be uploaded to the club’s website so other students and cannabis clubs around the country can access the lectures.