A campaign behind a UK-based study to research the effects of marijuana use on the brain is struggling to recruit Black and Asian volunteers who smoke cannabis regularly. The lack of adequate representation in the volunteer pool has raised concerns that the study’s findings would not be truly representative of the United Kingdom’s population.
With £2.5m ($3.04 million) in funding, the King’s College London study seeks to understand how cannabis use can lead to psychosis and paranoia in some users but have no such effects in other users. Findings from the upcoming study could open the door to expanded therapeutic use of cannabis and increase the safety of illicit recreational cannabis use.
But while White people have volunteered for the study in relatively large numbers, few Asian and Black cannabis users have volunteered for the study. After 18 months of working to build a 3,000-strong pool of marijuana users from the London Area, the “Cannabis and Me” campaign still needs to recruit hundreds more Asian, Caribbean and Black people.
Understandably, these two communities have met attempts to collect data about illicit drug use with suspicion and distrust. A 2021 analysis by the Liberal Democrats found that Black people in the UK are around 12 times more likely than White people to be arrested and prosecuted for marijuana possession.
Former police chief and the Liberal Democrat’s House of Lords home affairs spokesperson Brian Paddick said at the time that law enforcement’s focus on marijuana possession was undermining the Black community’s confidence and trust in the police. Asian and Black people also have an 11.8 cannabis possession conviction rate compared to White people, at 2.4 times even though they have lower self-reported rates of cannabis use.
Furthermore, Black people in the UK cumulatively make up a quarter of all cannabis possession convictions even though they make up less than 4% of the country’s population.
The two communities’ unwillingness to participate in the cannabis study points to a deeper issue in research science: Black people and other ethnic minorities have little representation in clinical research. This underrepresentation was especially present in clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines even though the pandemic had a significantly larger impact on minorities such as Asians and Black people.
Marketing consultant and head of the campaign’s recruitment drive William Gadsby-Smith says that for people who have had their trust in the government and law enforcement eroded by years of corrupt and racist police, saying no to participating in such initiatives is extremely easy.
An advocacy group based in Brixton that tackles racism in the UK’s legal system called Unjust refused to help the campaign recruit participants from minority groups. According to Unjust’s founding director Katrina French, the study’s findings on cannabis and psychosis could potentially lead lawmakers to expand cannabis criminalization among Black males while ignoring the effects of cannabis prohibition.
The fact that licensed companies such as Trulieve Cannabis Corp. (CSE: TRUL) (OTCQX: TCNNF) are permitted to operate in certain jurisdictions in the world doesn’t mean that all forms of prohibitionist policies were rolled back. The struggle for an end to prohibition is an ongoing process, and the reluctance of Blacks to enroll for the study above is testament that more still needs to be done.
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