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Local Cannabis Regulation: What have we learned from tobacco

Institution: Public Health Institute
Investigator(s): Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, FAAP
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 28) Grant #: 28IP-0035 Award: $455,992
Subject Area: State and Local Tobacco Control Policy Research
Award Type: High Impact Pilot Award

Initial Award Abstract

In 2018, adult-use cannabis sales became legal in California, joining 6 other states. It is hoped that this policy will reduce drug related mass incarceration and violence, bringing a large-scale, clandestine industry into the light. Yet cannabis use is associated with significant harms, especially when use commences young, is more frequent, or occurs during pregnancy. Products known from tobacco and alcohol research to attract youth are being sold, from orange soda to bubble-gum flavored pre-rolls to strawberry lollipops. Prices are declining and potency rising. Increasing use may place progress in social and legal norms for smoking and tobacco at risk.

We face the challenge of creating a regulatory system to optimize benefits of legalization while minimizing harm, including preventing youth and other high risk exposure. While the statewide policy framework is weak in public health protection, Prop 64 left broad leeway to local government to regulate or ban. In 2017, we carried out qualitative research with experts and stakeholders on a broad range of issues to identify optimal policy elements, in a setting of uncertainty. We then formulated model local ordinances for cannabis retailing, marketing and taxation, incorporating lessons learned from decades of tobacco and alcohol regulation. Yet, little is known about what practices are actually being adopted at the local level.

For this reason, we propose a pilot study of the content of local law on adult-use cannabis in California’s 58 counties and 482 cities in 2018-2019. Using the CannaRegs database, which tracks local law on this issue, complemented by direct consultations, we will examine how CA jurisdictions are regulating cannabis in areas covered by our models including: smoke-free air and interaction with existing tobacco law, allowable density of retailers, equity for low income residents, product types and potency allowed (including flavors and attractiveness to youth), marketing, warnings to the public, claims, discounting, taxation design, and use of tax revenue. Results will be analyzed, published, and used to inform policymakers and engage communities on current local practice, extent of adoption of policies to protect health, and areas for improvement. This knowledge is an essential substrate for future research to¬† understand health impact of legalization and identify best practices.