Alexandre Silberman
Alexandre Silberman
Alexandre Silberman is a second year student at St. Thomas University, studying digital journalism and new media, political science and communications. Alexandre is originally from Burlington, Vermont, where he has worked for VTDigger.org, a statewide, non-profit news and politics website, and the Burlington Free Press, the region's largest daily newspaper. In April 2017, he was named a finalist for a Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, for a story on allegations of a harmful work environment for high school counselors. Outside of the newsroom, you can likely find Alexandre on the ski slopes or enjoying the outdoors.
November 5, 2018

The Brunswickan introduces a new podcast: Sidebar

The hosts of Sidebar in the recording studio at CHSR. | Photo by Cameron Lane

Sidebar is a new podcast produced in partnership by The Brunswickan and CHSR. Focusing on issues in Fredericton, New Brunswick, hosts Alexandre Silberman and Isabelle Leger take you beyond the headlines once a month. This news and current affairs show includes conversations with experts and community leaders as we unpack the issues our listeners want to hear about.

Find the latest episode of Sidebar in Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, Podbean, TuneIn Radio and Soundcloud.

This month’s episode is on cannabis legalization and the various impacts this major change could have on the province. Below is an edited transcript of an interview from the show with Danielle Connell, the research services officer at St. Thomas University.

Alexandre Silberman  0:00

What research is currently being done regarding cannabis and the potential economic benefits it could have here in New Brunswick?

Danielle Connell  0:07
Big question. There's a lot of research going on in New Brunswick, if that's what we want to focus on. Cannabis research is this interesting research subject in that it's so incredibly interdisciplinary. There are areas that faculty can research in any department in any discipline. So currently, St. Thomas University has some faculty in our criminology and criminal justice department that are researching the history of criminal law regarding cannabis and projecting what needs to happen in the future. We've got another faculty member who's researching educating high school youth and enabling them to create their own educational programming specific to the high schools. She's received funding from Health Canada for that project at UNB.

Now, we have been awarded these cannabis research chairs to study health. So the St. Thomas University cannabis health research chair is going to focus on the social impacts of legalization and impacts on our health. And the chair at UNB is going to focus on chemistry, chemical engineering, understanding the chemical components of cannabis and how that can be used in health at other institutions. Université de Moncton, big shout out to UdeM, they've got more going on, really cannabis hands-on research, than arguably all of the other universities and colleges in New Brunswick. And then in addition to that NBCC has a training program to be an employee at a licensed producer (a cannabis-growing technician). And that's the only program of its kind in the Atlantic provinces that I know of.

So lots of little pockets of things going on. And right now we're at the point where everybody's getting to the same table and sharing, oh, you're doing this and you're doing that, oh, wow, we've got to connect these people. And there's so many lines that we can draw to connect all of these researchers. So it's a really exciting time.

Alexandre Silberman  2:45  

What collaboration is going on between research in different fields? And what are some of the challenges of bridging those gaps?

Danielle Connell  2:51

A lot of the legwork right now is being done by administrators; we're trying to lay groundwork in the province. And by we, I mean, we've put together a pretty large team.

Just to backtrack a bit: back in April, myself and representatives from St. Thomas University, UNB, NBCC, Université de Moncton, the Department of Agriculture, and Opportunities New Brunswick went to Germany and Holland and [met with experts on cannabis legalization]. We met with their government, we met with industry, we met with licensed producers, researchers, we visited six universities, and we came back from those 11 days just bursting with ideas.

So that core team has since quadrupled in size and has become regional in scope. And what we're doing through our various networks is encouraging our whole region to think collectively, think collaboratively because cannabis is such an interdisciplinary opportunity. The door's open for everyone, no one's excluded. There's such a big pie to take a slice from and UNB and St. Thomas are working night and day to lay a really unique framework for our cannabis health research chairs to come into. When they start, they can hit the ground running. We've already got research assistance and research internships lined up for them. We've got funding lined up partnerships within the region, international partners that want to work with them, and industries that wants to fund their research.

Safety is the number one reason why these things are going to go really slowly.  It's new uncharted territory, and the whole world is watching.


Alexandre Silberman  5:08  
Are there ethical considerations with legalizing cannabis and having retail sales? On one hand, you'd like to properly inform the public of some of the health implications of cannabis, but on the other hand, the province will also benefit from sales.

Danielle Connell  5:23  
Exactly! I will refer your listeners to a STU professor, Michael Boudreau. He's written a really interesting article about how [the government] is going to achieve that balance: making money selling a drug that used to be illegal, educating people on safe usage, yet not promoting its use. It's not like alcohol. It's not like gambling. It's not like tobacco. It's not like anything we've done before. Finding that balance is where research data is going to come in and hopefully answer people's problems, because right now the research data is so sparse. So we're going to see research really explode. Perhaps we can position the atlantic provinces as the home base for say, cannabis clinical trials for veterans or PTSD sufferers or cannabis long term use. If we can set up a 30-year trial to study long term use, then we'll have facts about what that balance has to look like. But right now, we don't know. There's so many unknowns. That's why it's so interesting.

Alexandre Silberman  6:39  
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Really appreciate it.

Danielle Connell  6:42  
You're welcome. Thank you.

Listen to this interview and other conversations about cannabis legalization in the October episode of Sidebar.

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