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Meet Dr. Marion McNabb and Randal MacCaffrie of Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marion McNabb and Randal MacCaffrie.

The co-founders, Dr. McNabb, DrPH, MPH and Randy, met through mutual friends in the Boston music scene and share a deep love of cannabis and its medicinal potential. In November 2016 Massachusetts voters passed Ballot Question 4 legalizing adult-use cannabis, and they began to brainstorm how they could advance the scientific evidence base related to medical cannabis in the Commonwealth. One year ago in early January 2017, they started their public benefit corporation, Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN)(

Randy is a cannabis community advocate, musician, and a master craftsman and expert in renovating old New England homes. Marion is a public health doctor by training, with 15 years of global health experience working in HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and rights, working the majority of her career in Africa. In January 2017, they had many conversations about the medical value of cannabis and the reality that there is not enough solid and reliable research to guide patients and clinicians.

Medical cannabis dispensaries in Massachusetts operate parallel to the mainstream healthcare system and patients are often left to self-medicate and navigate their cannabis and prescription medication treatments alone. Cannabis has been considered a medical treatment for over 3,000 years. It was in the United States Pharmacopeia and in 1942 cannabis as a medical treatment was removed and the clinical education surrounding the medical benefits ceased.

They have both been members of the cannabis community and consumers all of their lives. They have seen and heard stories of many cultivating under the radar for years, tailoring strains to treat specific health conditions. They both would read about families moving their lives to legal medical cannabis states in search of solutions for conditions ranging from pediatric epilepsy to ALS. They set out to create a cannabis center of excellence in Massachusetts to advance the research and integration of cannabis into mainstream healthcare.

They realized that through their diverse backgrounds, they could bridge their communities and create a space for conversation around advancing cannabis science. Marion has experience designing globally scaled public health and clinical programs and Randy has extensive reach in the cannabis, craftsman, music, and art communities. They believed their two skill sets, connections and hearts would be a great combination to advocate for medical and legal cannabis. When they started to dig in deeper into the medical benefits of cannabis, it became clear that the scientific evidence is increasingly showing that medical cannabis can play a role in the opioid epidemic.

They also became increasingly aware that the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts is one of the worst in the United States. They live in Massachusetts, home to more than 100 institutions of higher education and over 140 hospitals. With so many experts in the Commonwealth, they looked for ways to creatively advance the research and education around the medical benefits of cannabis and further the introduction of cannabis as a medicine in the mainstream healthcare system. Historically, researchers have faced challenges in accessing funding to conduct research studies in human populations.

Additionally given that Cannabis is illegal at the federal level, there are several hurdles that researchers face in obtaining cannabis approved at the federal level to study in human populations. However, in states with legal medical or adult-use cannabis, a state can authorize state-sanctioned research with cannabis in human populations. With this in mind, in January 2017 C3RN was formed with global health colleagues Ben Nardone and Kellie Klein, experts in technology and finance, to develop a virtual cannabis center of excellence in Massachusetts.

They have plans to develop digital health tools to help patients, clinicians, dispensaries, and researchers connect to conduct studies and develop standard data collection tools and approaches to further cannabis science. In 2018, they are excited to launch a series of events that are intended to drive a community-led research agenda for medical and adult-use cannabis that reflects the true needs on the ground to de-stigmatize cannabis and integrate it as a medicine.

However, in order to advance cannabis science, they realized it was essential to advocate at the state and local levels to introduce medical cannabis research licenses in Massachusetts. In March 2017, they started by testifying and writing academic policy memos and evidence-based recommendations for the state. In April, they testified several times at the Joint Senate and House committee that was tasked with reviewing the bills related to Ballot Question 4. Their main points were for the state to adopt and expand the research agenda to include the medical benefits of cannabis.

As a social justice-oriented public benefit corporation, C3RN went to Lawrence Massachusetts to advocate not banning adult-use cannabis in favor of using this opportunity to improve the city from the health, social, and economic perspective. They then worked in Methuen and Holyoke to provide recommendations for creating model cities to generate best practices moving forward. All white papers can be found on their website They again testified at the state level Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) open public testimony period, and wrote a final policy memo with recommendations to the state to introduce research licenses, citing lessons from other states.

In November 2017, Boston University (BU), where Marion completed her doctorate in public health, hosted an ancillary cannabis startup competition for BU students, faculty, and alumni through the Questrom School of Business BUzz Lab in partnership with Green Lion Partners. They went for it! C3RN pitched their vision of creating a virtual center of excellence to advance research and care related to cannabis. They ended up winning! (see article here:

Shortly after winning the BU competition in November 2017, the CCC at the state level published the draft regulations for the new adult use cannabis industry and the state passed the ability to access a research license. They were excited to learn that the CCC heard the calls from many stakeholders to develop an advanced research agenda and created a cannabis license category for researchers. This research license will allow studies to be conducted in human populations with cannabis cultivated in Massachusetts. Historically, researchers could only use cannabis cultivated under one licensed and approved cultivator by the US government in Mississippi.

A research working group will be formed to help guide the CCC to further refine the research licensing structure and priorities. C3RN recently launched our 2018 six month cannabis science, education, and networking series with the first event in January. These events are intended to discuss the state of the science and gather community input on how a medically-focused research agenda could be advanced in the Commonwealth. Their first event will be on January 25, 2018 at Canopy City in Somerville with speakers from Harvard, Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, MCR Labs, and C3RN.

They hope you will come learn about the state of the science and opportunities to collaborate on research in a fun, innovative, and interactive setting! To learn more and register: Here’s to a 2018 filled a community-drive cannabis science research agenda!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Is there a smooth road for entrepreneurs? If so, would love to know! It has been a long, hard year getting this business off the ground. But we are grateful for all of the friends, family, and colleagues who have helped, volunteered and guided us along the way.

While we bootstrapped the enterprise, we decided to focus first on developing our public good and advocacy activities. It is difficult in the cannabis industry to easily get bank accounts, loans, or other capital while you are in the development phase. This has made it challenging to keep it going month by month. But within one year, we have had consulting clients, won a startup competition, and are forming partnerships to get research studies and events launched in early 2018.

We are proud to close out 2017 with such successes. We are sometimes told the big pharma, tobacco, and some cannabis companies own the cannabis research market already. Although we are a small company and our ideas about creating a center of excellence are lofty, they are not insurmountable. Despite the obstacles, we are standing strong and listening to our advisors who remind us often to rise above the noise and stick to where our hearts are. There is a lot of noise in the cannabis industry but not a lot of music, and we intend to create music.

Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN) – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN) is a Massachusetts-based company that provides high-quality research and analytic services related to the impacts of medical and adult-use recreational cannabis. We are building a virtual cannabis Center of Excellence (CoE) in Massachusetts that aims to advance the scientific evidence-base for medical and adult-use cannabis. For more information please visit: and

What are you proud of as a company?
Randy: That we made it this far and the amount of community support we have gathered from so many along the way.

Marion: In only one year we put our hearts into advocating for advancing medical cannabis research agenda and allow licenses to study in human populations, and it passed at the State level. We also won the BU startup competition which was awesome.

What sets you apart from others?
We have ties to different industries (cannabis, agriculture, academic, technology, global health, clinical and more!) that are complementary yet unique. Our skill sets, our hearts, and our passion for social justice set us apart and makes us fun to work with 🙂

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Randy: That we made it this far and the amount of community support we have gathered from so many along the way.

Marion: Proud that in only one year we put our hearts into advocating for advancing medical cannabis research agenda and allow licenses to study in human populations, and they passed it at the State level! We also won the BU startup competition!

In late December, we also launched our 2018 six-month cannabis science, education, and networking series with the first event on January 25, 2017 from 6-9:30 at Canopy City in Somerville, MA. We are lining up speakers and sponsors for the events so please reach out if you are interested! You can find the events here: and the sponsorship information here: We will launch our membership for the virtual cannabis center of excellence in February 2018 so stay tuned and sign up for email updates here:

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