Professors present on cannabis ethics, global perspectives

Creative Research Collaboration gives researchers the opportunity to discuss projects and network with others

December 12, 2016
Marty Otañez in a grow house
Professor Marty Otañez performing research in a cannabis grow house

The informal Creative Research Collaborative Fellow’s Talk is an annual series that allows professors to share their projects with fellow faculty members and the general public. Associate Professors Marty Otañez, PhD, and Bryan Wee presented their research projects on Nov. 9. Located in the Office of Research Services (ORS), the CRC is a campuswide initiative to foster innovative and interdisciplinary research that strengthens collaboration across academic units.

Marty Otañez: Cannabis ethics and workers’ health

While most cannabis research focuses on the effects of consumption, work-related health hazards posed by cannabis production are also deserving of study, according to Marty Otañez, PhD, associate professor of anthropology. His documentary filmmaking tells the story of these under-represented areas of workers’ health.

Otañez uses videography to show that many workers regard the airborne powdery mildew inside cannabis grow houses as a significant occupational hazard. Through his ORS-funded study, he developed a survey to provide insight into the working conditions inside grow houses and trimming rooms, and to identify various precautions workers take to protect their health. The second part of his research and creative work is a quantitative look at air quality in cannabis cultivation facilities to determine the severity of the powdery mildew problem.

Philanthropy or PR?

He also studies the philanthropic activities of Colorado cannabis companies, specifically how some of them try to bolster their reputations through community engagement programs. Otañez claims these efforts enhance corporate reputations while sidestepping workers’ legitimate occupational concerns.

Otañez found some of these companies donate to nonprofit organizations in order to appear as ethical and sustainable businesses, even while using business practices that potentially harm their workers or pay poverty wages. “I’m interested in what we can do. Not just to understand the issue and critique it, but find out what the remedy is,” Otañez said.

This research is built on the model he’s used over the last 15 years in developing countries that grow tobacco. He uses documentary filmmaking to show how the tobacco industry perpetuates child labor, debt servitude, and environmental degradation though its business practices. Through these narrative-based descriptions of culture, he tries to influence policy about corporate accountability and alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers on a global level.

Many of these issues are featured in Otañez’s public access television show through Denver Open Media called Getting High on Anthropology.

Bryan Wee, 黄绍章: Children’s perspective on the environment

Bryan Wee
Professor Bryan Wee

Children have little control over their lives. The world they live in has been built and is run by adults. Playgrounds are designed by what an adult thinks a child would like. Their educational materials were designed by what an adult believes a child should know. Despite being told how the world is and should be, children across the globe develop their own unique perspectives about their environment.

“What is the environment?” That’s the question Bryan Wee, PhD, associate professor of geography and environmental science, has been asking children around the world over the last 15 years. He argues that educators, parents and adults that create resources for children need to affirm the lived experiences of children in order to meaningfully relate with them. In order to do that, Wee studies children’s sense of place and how they connect with the world around them.

“When we think about cross-cultural studies we tend to focus on what’s different. What I’ve come to realize is that it’s also about what’s similar,” said Wee.

Children around the world

Across all the countries in which Wee has worked, the environment has become somewhat synonymous with nature. “What are the socio-cultural factors that lead a child in Nanjing, China, to view the environment the same way as a child in Denver?” he said.

Wee asks children to either draw pictures or to take photographs of their environment and write reflections on the images they’ve drawn or captured. He then evaluates his data using three different forms of analysis.

First he identifies the content of the image in terms of what is actually being represented. Then he interprets the patterns or themes that emerge from the image. Finally, he looks at the language the child used to describe the environment. This process helps Wee understand both the particulars of a child’s lived experience within his or her culture and also what themes emerge on a much larger scale. Wee uses both to understand and advocate for the perspectives of children.


This article is the second in a four-part series about this year’s CRC Fellows. Look for stories about other researchers next spring.