An institute housed at Florida A&M University leads the nation in education, community engagement and research about medical marijuana.
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
TALLAHASSEE – Florida A&M University’s Medical Marijuana Education and Research Initiative (MMERI) begins the year on a solid footing after accelerating its community engagement, communications, education and research initiatives in 2019.
MMERI is unique in that it is run primarily by women, and is the first organization in the nation working to inform and educate diverse non-White communities about cannabis.
MMERI’s staff consists of Interim Executive Director Patricia Green-Powell, Ph.D., Public Affairs Liaison Angela Hardiman and MMERI Communications Liaison and FAMU Associate Director of Communications Carol Angela Davis. These women have worked tirelessly to make sure that the information Floridians need to make decisions about cannabis is always available and timely.
Hardiman is a community engagement expert who spent 15 years serving diverse constituency groups in community and economic development. Her work has helped transform communities in Florida.
Davis is a lawyer and veteran media professional whose work includes pioneering video on the Internet, television channel development, content creation and distribution for mobile and business development. She is a former professor of journalism at Hampton University and High Point University.
During the year 2020, MMERI plans to bring more public forums and appearances at local festivals, churches and other events. The MMERI booth will be packed with important information in four languages: English, Spanish, Haitian-Creole and French. Among many other places, MMERI expects to make presentations to students at each of Florida’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Around the state
In 2019, MMERI held eight face-to-face forums in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tallahassee (2), Pensacola and Melbourne, reaching 595 attendees.
In the 41 events MMERI participated in, more than 20,000 people had the opportunity to hear from MMERI about medical marijuana and the impact of the unlawful use of marijuana.
According to Hardiman, “The numbers don’t lie. We’ve been working like crazy to do a job that everyone knew was difficult, but no one knew really knew what it took to get it done. But that’s what happens when you are pioneers in an industry.”
Hardiman adds that MMERI has had 111 total engagements with community organizations, agencies, businesses and educational institutions. Everyone who attended a MMERI forum had the opportunity to complete a survey which helps MMERI uncover perceptions, evoke discussion, drive programming, and inform policymaking in cannabis.
MMERI’s communications efforts have also broken new ground and created multiple pathways to deliver information to consumers.
“Our communications strategy is to make sure that the consumer can get the information they need at the most convenient time for them to receive it, and in the most convenient way for them to access it,’’ Davis said.
Davis noted that MMERI’s materials are available as printed material, on a weekly podcast, on the radio, as public service announcements on television, on the MMERI website (http://mmeri.famu.edu), on the university’s library repository and on social media.
Davis and Hardiman work in lockstep in their communications and community engagement efforts, adding that they get tremendous satisfaction from creating the blueprint for the design and implementation of a massive multi-language education campaign, in the nation’s third most populous state and one of the most diverse states, in a burgeoning industry.
The word gets out
So far, MMERI has aired more than 13,000 radio and television public service announcements in English and Spanish.
It reached 1.2 million impressions on its podcast, and it airs a weekly half-hour radio program reaching 17 counties: Leon, Gadsden, Alachua, Jefferson, Wakulla, Duval, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Pinellas, Polk, Lee, Volusia, Nassau, Palm Beach, Martin, Indian River, and St. Lucie.
MMERI can be also be found on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, where it also broadcasts the weekly radio program live from the WANM-FM studios at FAMU.
But MMERI doesn’t stop there. Its efforts also encompass education and research.
Under the direction of Dr. Cynthia Hughes-Harris, MMERI’s research director and the dean of FAMU’s School of Allied Health Sciences, MMERI funded 21 professors through 14 research mini-grants. The professors are looking at various aspects of medical marijuana including criminal justice, issues involving children, the placement of dispensaries and much more. Results for these research projects are expected out this summer.
Hughes-Harris says the purpose of research is to pose questions and get answers. It is those answers that provide the basis for action, information sharing and further research.
She also has been selected to serve as the FAMU representative on the Consortium for Medical Marijuana Clinical Outcomes Research Panel at the University of Florida. HughesHarris says the consortium allows research initiatives across all the universities to share both findings and initiatives.
“It is noteworthy that FAMU is a contributor, because our research is unique and worthy of being shared with the other perspectives that are at the table,” she explained.
Her research background has focused on health disparities. She previously served as the director of the physical therapy and occupational therapy programs at Columbia University in New York.
“FAMU has consistently served the community and is looking at some of the critical issues related to the expanded presence of marijuana that will surely impact our diverse minority communities. We are excited to share what we learn,’’ she added.
Teaching and learning
Under Green-Powell’s direction, MMERI has also created coursework designed to add to the many ways in which MMERI is delivering information to the public. As the former interim dean of the College of Education, GreenPowell says she felt that a course would allow for more variety in self-education on marijuana.
“The curriculum that has been developed can be used for workshops, teleconferences, webinars and focus groups as yet another platform for the delivery of information,” she explained. “We will utilize the courses to extend our partnerships for collaboration with other schools and colleges, HBCUs in Florida, and other community-based organizations.”
“Since Aug. 2, 2019, the work of MMERI has been one of the most enjoyable points of my professional career in education. The work is critical, it is needed and we are the ones to deliver the information because of our history of service to the community.
“The interface with the diverse minority communities is rewarding and the new information we are providing about the potential benefits of medical marijuana and the consequences of the unlawful use is empowering to communities.
“It is critical that we continue to provide engaging community forums, scholarly research, education and our communications strategy that allows us to bring conversations on cannabis to the people via radio, social media and podcast,” Green-Powell emphasized.
MMERI staff say the project would not be possible without the support of the Florida Legislature, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, and particularly State Senator Darryl Rouson, one of the champions of medical marijuana in Florida and particularly at FAMU.