St. Thomas University has established a Health Research Chair in Cannabis. The position is expected to be filled by July 1. (Photo by Caitlin Dutt)

St. Thomas University’s new Health Research Chair in Cannabis will be filled by the end of the academic year, the school said.

It’s the first Canadian health research chair to be created with a focus on cannabis. The chair’s research will “examine the social determinants of health relative to the use of recreational and medical cannabis,” according to a government press release. 

Social determinants include education, income and social status. This chair will aim at understanding how these determinants affect Canadians’ health.

“What students can look for next year is another new faculty member to bring their research, their perspective, their energy to the classroom and to an issue that society is only going to intensify its intention on as we move toward July 1, 2018,” said Jeffrey Carleton, associate vice-president communications at STU.

Over the course of five years, $1-million dollars in funding will be provided by Shoppers Drug Mart and the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation.

A portion of the funding is allocated for student research assistants to the chair, meaning students will have the opportunity to work on research related to cannabis.

With the federal government’s deadline for the legalisation of marijuana quickly approaching, the creation of research positions like the one at STU is intended to provide guidance for provincial and federal policy makers.

“There hasn’t been a tremendous amount of scholarly research in this field … There will be a lot of questions from different sectors, and those kind of things combined, it’s a perfect fit for St. Thomas because when you look at what we try to do with our research we try and make our research socially relevant on pressing issues facing society,” said Carleton.

Dr. Bruno Battistini, president, CEO and scientific director of the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, said he hopes policy-makers on cannabis would educate themselves and implement best practices. 

“We can only hope that policy-makers in various departments engaged to the aspects of cannabis will listen and educate themselves relative to evidence-based research and apply best practices observed elsewhere,” Battistini said.

The research chair position will be for a full-time faculty member who will teach courses in their area of expertise. The university expects the creation of new, socially relevant courses for the 2018-19 academic year.

The position will be advertised nationally, and the hiring committee has already been chosen by the university. The committee includes members from the sociology and criminology departments.

The creation of the position was announced in May. A similar position at the University of New Brunswick was announced in August.

“New Brunswick will position itself as a leader in the field with these two chairs, generating the expertise and the know how to guide the industry and the legalization and its impact,” Battistini said.