Melanie Creagan Dreher was a practicing nurse when she entered the first class in Applied Anthropology at Teachers College in 1967, never having taken a course in Anthropology. Two years later, with the encouragement of Professor Comitas, she joined the NIH Cannabis Project in Jamaica where she explored the impact of ganja on work performance, challenging the commonly accepted amotivational syndrome. This research was the foundation for her dissertation and first book, Working Men and Ganja (1984), initiating four decades of scholarship on the social and health aspects of cannabis.
Dr. Dreher officially began her academic career as Assistant Professor at Columbia University School of Public Health where, with NIH post-doctoral funding, she shifted her attention to (1) the consumption of cannabis tea by Jamaican school children, and (2) cannabis consumption during pregnancy on neonatal health and development. This emphasis on women is captured in Women and Cannabis (Russo, Dreher and Mathre 2002).
In 1984, she was appointed to the Endowed Chair in Transcultural Nursing at the University of Miami where she continued her examination of children exposed to cannabis prenatally. Within two years she became Dean of the School, opening the door to subsequent deanships at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Iowa, and eventually, Rush University in Chicago. As an academic leader, she championed the inclusion of anthropological methods and real-world evidence in health practice, education, and research.
Throughout her career, she has continued to conduct, present, and defend the results of her ethnographic research on cannabis both for the academy and for the public. While Dean at University of Iowa, she hosted the first International Clinical Conference on the Therapeutic Use of Cannabis. She also served as an expert witness for several cannabis-related court cases and as a speaker for community organizations, such as Rotary and School Boards. For her sustained commitment to seeking and telling the truth about marijuana, she received the Lester Grinspoon Award from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The application of her research on the use of cannabis during pregnancy has successfully averted both the postpartum imprisonment of mothers who used cannabis during pregnancy and the placement of their newborns in foster care. Dr. Dreher received a special citation from the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica for her humanitarian work in Jamaica where cannabis laws mandated by the United States government have, finally, been lifted.