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Dr. Shanna Babalonis

University of Kentucky Opens New Cannabis Research Center

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The Bluegrass State’s flagship university is getting some green. In an announcement on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky heralded the opening of “a new center that will advance research on the medical use of cannabis.”

The “UK Cannabis Center,” as it is known, “will conduct research on the health effects of cannabis, including its risks and benefits when used to treat certain medical conditions.”

The center is the result of a bill passed by Kentucky lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear earlier this year.

“The legislature is interested in having us explore the conditions for which medical cannabis might be useful, as well as the most effective dosing and route of administration for each condition,” said Dr. Shanna Babalonis, who will serve as director of the UK Cannabis Center.

The announcement on Wednesday said that Babalonis is “an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and a cannabis researcher at CDAR, is increasingly recognized as a leader in the cannabis field and an expert on the topic of medical cannabinoids,” boasting “three active National Institutes of Health grants, totaling nearly $3.5 million, aimed at examining cannabis-opioid interactions, cannabis effects in those with opioid use disorder and the effects of cannabis on simulated driving performance.”

“The new center will allow us to expand our clinical research, particularly focusing on medical conditions that may be helped by medical cannabis,” Babalonis said in the announcement.

The bill that established the UK Cannabis Center was passed in the closing days of the Kentucky legislative session in April. Beshear, a Democrat, used a line-item veto in his signing of the legislation, striking out certain parts of the bill that he said would “limit the purpose of the center and dictate who the president of the University of Kentucky should consider appointing to the advisory board after giving the president of the university sole appointing power.”

Beshear said earlier this year that he was entertaining the idea of using executive action to legalize medical cannabis in the state.

“We’re going to explore that,” Beshear said in April. “It’s something that we will look at. Its time has certainly come.”

That didn’t sit right with members of legislature, including Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers.

“The public should be concerned with a governor who thinks he can change statute by executive order,” Stivers said in a statement in April. “He simply can’t legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you can’t supersede a statute by executive order because it’s a Constitutional separation of powers violation.”

The bill that established the UK Cannabis Center was viewed as a compromise by Republicans in the state Senate who were not ready to fully legalize medical cannabis treatment. A bill legalizing medical cannabis passed out of the Kentucky state House of Representatives in March, but the measure was never brought to a vote in the state Senate.

In the announcement on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky said that the bill “also requires UK to apply to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for a license to grow and cultivate cannabis,” and that if approved, “the center will be able to conduct agricultural research pertaining to optimal growing conditions.”

According to the announcement, “UK President Eli Capilouto recently appointed a multidisciplinary team of UK faculty members that will oversee the research center’s work and finances,” and the “12-member board includes an executive or steering committee that will work with Babalonis to establish the center’s research goals and agenda and make key financial decisions, and an advisory board to help guide and provide feedback on the center’s progress and overall direction.”



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