Dr. R. Lawrence Hatchett isn’t an SIU alumnus, but he’s most certainly a Saluki.
Raised in the historically black coal mining town of Colp, he attended University School, which was located in Pulliam Hall. It wasn’t easy for a child growing up during a time of racial division, but SIU made him feel right at home.
“SIU changed my life. Walking through campus on my way to class in third grade was like a dream world,” Dr. Hatchett said. “There was a feeling of utopia, and I never felt so accepted, so loved and appreciated, and it meant everything to me, and it still does even to this day.”
It’s that connection that brought Dr. Hatchett to SIU with the following pledge – $100,000 over four years to establish the Phoenix Cannabis Production Scholarship within the School of Agricultural Sciences. The scholarship, named after his son, Phoenix, will be available to African-American and Hispanic students.
“It was this campus, this university and my childhood experience that changed my life at a very critical time. I want the university and the caring people there to offer this same tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of talented young people by adding to the well-needed diversity in the cannabis industry,” he said.
Over time, Dr. Hatchett said he hopes to develop externships and create an endowment for the program.
Beyond his $100,000 commitment, Dr. Hatchett provided an additional $6,000 to fund the development of facilities in the School of Agricultural Sciences building to support the cannabis program. The upgrades will help improve research opportunities. “This is really important for us,” said Karen Jones, faculty coordinator for Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems. “This financial support helps us stay modern and gives students the opportunity to work with plants.”
Even though recreational cannabis only became legal to sell in Illinois at the start of 2020, SIU has been working toward having a program in place for years.
“Our goal is to help the people of Southern Illinois to explore this new, emerging career path,” Jones said. “Any time you start a new initiative, getting started is one of the biggest hurdles.”
Once Dr. Hatchett became familiar with Karen Jones and the School of Agricultural Sciences, he knew SIU was the right place for his investment.
“You never realize how much talent there is in a department until you look,” he said. “We are hoping to develop a footprint in the industry and highlight the talent we have.”
After attending Marquette University on a full basketball scholarship, Dr. Hatchett completed his medical school education at the University of Chicago and completed his internship and residency training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He eventually finished his fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital through Harvard Medical School.
A well-known urologist, Dr. Hatchett founded Southern Illinois Urology in Herrin in 2003. He has also spent time as a speaker for Pfizer pharmaceuticals, being featured both nationally and internationally.
“My path into the cannabis industry was atypical,” he said. “My mother, who was around 90 years old, was seeking pain relief alternatives, so I began researching cannabis.”
Once Illinois legalized recreational cannabis use, Dr. Hatchett became majority owner of Cannabliss Depot. “Medical cannabis helps with PTSD, seizure disorders, pain relief, and it has some anti-cancer applications,” he said. “It also helps with drug addiction if someone is hooked on opioids.”
According to Dr. Hatchett, doctors share the responsibility when it comes to solving these issues.
“We should be part of the solution and play a role in the future of cannabis,” he said. “We should allow research and prepare for the expansion of its use. I, personally, never used cannabis in my life, but I think it can help people.”
Challenges will arise, but Dr. Hatchett said he believes it’s possible to figure out all the legal details.
“I see the negative. We’re not promoting it for the young,” he said. “This is about responsible, adult use. We hope people will use good judgment.”