SIU’s cannabis research: An opportunity to lead

By Jeff Wilson

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, SIU has positioned itself on the forefront of the research that will drive it even further.

Dr. Jose Franco Da Cunha Leme Filho leads SIU’s Cannabis Science Center in the College of Agricultural, Life, and Physical Sciences (CALPS).

“We want to attract more students to horticulture, plant biology, agronomy, and other research-intensive initiatives,” he said.

This fall, CALPS will begin offering a bachelor’s degree in horticulture with a specialization in cannabis science, as well as a minor and certification. As the college moves forward with cannabis research, it faces numerous challenges. There are very few federal grants available to support the research, which means its expansion relies heavily on donations and collaboration with private companies.

“It’s a big challenge,” Dr. Leme said. “We are relying on partnerships with the private sector to advance toward our goals.”

SIU’s research only works with low-THC cannabis plants, and Dr. Leme is unable to accept monetary donations from companies that focus on recreational or medical marijuana, which compounds the challenge.

Dr. Leme has secured equipment donations from companies such as AC Infinity, which donated controlled-environment growth units that now fill the limited lab space used for cannabis research in Life Science II.

“I am very appreciative of SIU,” he said. “The university has been very open-minded in creating these opportunities. What we’re doing is the best in the state. We are the ones to collaborate with.”

Now, the goal is to expand, but that requires resources. Dr. Leme has created a plan to establish a new controlled-environment agriculture lab in the basement of McLafferty Annex.

“We would be starting from the ground up,” he said. “Currently, we have more equipment than we can fit in our space. We’re crammed into many small labs, which we’re happy to have, but we need more space. A company could come in and put its name on a new, state-of-the-art lab space.”

With more than 20 students currently working on the research, with more room, Dr. Leme said that number could double or even triple. Plus, a controlled-environment agriculture lab space would support more than cannabis research and include other indoor-production crops.

“Collaborating with private companies, we can help introduce them to academia and students,” Dr. Leme said. “We will provide reliable information and show the legitimacy of cannabis research and combat negative stereotypes that exist.”

To learn more about the program or how to support it, contact Dr. Leme at jose.leme@siu.edu or CALPS Director of Development Susan Graham at susang@foundation.siu.edu.

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