Dr Rychert at the 16th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy in Belgium, May 2023. Photo: Supplied
2023: Dr Marta Rychert, Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research titled ‘Harm reduction industries or harmful corporations? Investigating digital and social media influence strategies of the emerging international legal cannabis industry and cannabis vaping sector’
Published on 27 Whiringa-ā-nuku October 2023
Dr Marta Rychert received her PhD in 2017 in public health from Massey University. She has since worked her way up to Senior Research Officer in the SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre at Massey University. She is a co-Editor-in-Chief of an international drug policy journal, Drugs, Habits and Social Policy. In 2018 and 2019 her work was nominated for the Best Early Career Researcher award by the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy. Her research has been supported by multiple competitive grants including from the Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand and the Marsden Fund.
Dr Rychert’s expertise intersects health, policy and law, with a particular focus on the socio-legal and policy challenges of drug law reform, harm minimisation, social equity and public health. She has also developed an interdisciplinary research portfolio in health law and professional misconduct, wherein she analyses structural drivers of professional misconduct and improved models of rehabilitation.
The legalisation of cannabis by select states and countries, and the development of vaping technologies have collided, creating the biggest change in the addictive substances space in decades. Aotearoa New Zealand has grappled with the cannabis debate on legalisation for medical use and held a national referendum on cannabis reform in 2020. Recent cannabis policy reform and cannabis vaping have potential to improve public health and social equity by reducing arrests and the pulmonary health effects from smoking, particularly among Māori and Pacific Peoples. However, there is also a risk of creating new harms, including from commercial industry actors primarily focused on profit, and the targeting of Māori, Pacific Peoples and vulnerable populations such as youth. This research programme will provide the first large scale examination of these issues within the cannabis industry of Aotearoa.
In this Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, new digital and social media monitoring tools will be blended with conventional research methods to analyse the ‘influence strategies’ used by commercial actors to shape public policy and create pro-consumption environments. A large-scale online survey of frequent cannabis users in Aotearoa will be conducted, with a particular focus on Māori and Pacific Peoples. This survey will explore the influence of industry messages, and measure cannabis vaping uptake under the new medicinal cannabis regime. Dr Rychert and her collaborators, including experts in industry influence, drug policy, and Māori health, will also investigate the role that major US and Canadian industry actors play in promoting market-friendly narratives in new countries and regions.
This Rutherford Discovery Fellowship will make a significant theoretical contribution to the commercial determinants of health, providing much needed evidence for policy and regulatory responses to cannabis in Aotearoa.
Dr Rychert during fieldwork in Quebec (Canada), in front of a government-run cannabis retail outlet (Société québécoise du cannabis), 2022. Photo: Supplied