PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: When Charles Pollack created a marijuana research center in 2016 at Thomas Jefferson University, his idea was considered visionary. It was a chance to fashion Philadelphia into a global hub for marijuana education and innovation, and would help drive Pennsylvania’s ambitions to become the “Silicon Valley” of cannabis research. Three years later, the center is in shambles.
Pollack, the founder, was forced to resign in April after he self-reported that he had sexually harassed a female subordinate. He had sent her amorous emails and slipped notes under her door, overwhelming her with unwanted attention, according to documents reviewed by The Inquirer. She rebuffed all his advances.
His departure set in motion a series of changes and revelations that have tarnished the university’s reputation and threatened the future of his creation: the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp. A chorus of detractors, from former employees to key donors and leading marijuana researchers, are calling the center’s implosion “a tragedy” and “a disaster.” Former advisers accuse the center and Jefferson of ethical lapses completely unrelated to Pollack’s personal foibles.
Pollack held lavish conferences, gave a key contract to a friend who never delivered, and grew uncomfortably close to industry. Then after his departure, the center revoked two research grants with elite institutions that shattered its credibility in the research community. “They’ve squandered and p—ed off the entire cannabinoid community,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, who served as the Lambert Center’s research director until June.
Critics say the center’s close relationship with its primary benefactor’s firm, an international hemp corporation called Ecofibre, has left it open to accusations that the Lambert Center had become little more than a research arm of that company. “The potential was there for them to be at the forefront of the most important [medical] trials in the world,” said Sue Sisley, a prominent researcher in Arizona who had served on the Lambert advisory committee. “I hear scientists are concerned they’ve become hacks for Ecofibre.” The company, she said, now calls the shots about the center’s mission and research.
Jefferson administrators maintain that the Lambert Center has only undergone a necessary change in direction to position itself for the future. “Change can be hard for people,” said John Brand, the university’s vice president of communications. “This happens all the time in hospitals, as well as in other businesses.”
After Pollack left, Jefferson appointed Rajesh Aggarwal, a Jefferson bariatric surgeon who had no prior cannabis expertise, to become Lambert’s interim director. He fired the paid staff of four people in May without consulting the center’s advisory committee. Then he dismissed those advisers, dismantling a who’s who of international marijuana researchers and entrepreneurs. MORE