Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Public health regulations for marijuana

An article published in the April 17, 2014 edition of the American Journal of Public Health discusses why public health regulations are needed when establishing a legal commercial marijuana system. 

Based on research findings for preventing teen alcohol and tobacco use, the authors suggest implementing the following regulations for an emerging marijuana market:
  • Keeping prices artificially high;
  • Restricting and carefully monitoring licenses if a state monopoly is not established;
  • Limiting the types of products sold;
  • Limiting marketing;
  • Restricting public consumption. 

Limiting outlet density: public health benefits
The Washington State Liquor Control Board marijuana rules limit the amount of marijuana retailers that may open in communities.  Twenty-one stores will be allowed in Seattle, which is in line with how many liquor stores were in Seattle prior to privatization.  Limiting outlet density is a proven way to reduce underage drinking and other public health harms associated with alcohol.  The article elaborates by stating, “ . . . studies from various disciplines converge in showing a strong positive relationship between alcohol outlet density and alcohol misuses as well as unintentional injuries and crime.  The evidence is so strong that several national and regional health organizations . . . have included recommendations related to licensing restrictions in prevention plans.”

Limiting outlet density: Saving tax dollars
The article goes on to say, “Keeping the number of licenses small also helps control the cost of regulating these new businesses and enforcing compliance (because there are fewer entities to oversee).  Fewer licenses make it easier for the government to keep close records on each licensee, making it easier to discover anomalies in their books that could indicate diversion to underground markets.”

Limiting products sold
Since it is difficult to expand regulations once a market is fully established, the authors suggest that products attractive to youth be strictly limited from the get-go.  “If governments wait to try to impose such product restrictions or leave the industry to regulate itself, the outcome could be problematic, as profit motive will likely dominate decisions rather than consumer safety.”  Both the alcohol and tobacco industries make products that are attractive to youth including sweet-flavored cigarettes, nicotine products, and alcohol.   Currently, marijuana rules in our state do not ban sweet-flavored or other products that may be attractive to youth. 

Restricting public consumption
The authors promote limiting public consumption of marijuana based on studies about youth tobacco use and restrictions on public tobacco use.  “ . . . Clean indoor air laws targeting public places that youths tend to congregate . . . are associated with reduced initiation and self-reported use of cigarettes among children and adolescents.  Even broad workplace clean indoor air laws . . . have been shown to influence the smoking behaviors of youths by influencing antismoking norms.”  While the use of marijuana “in view of the public” is against Washington State law, it remains to be seen how the law is interpreted by local jurisdictions and enforced.  In Seattle, public use of marijuana results in a verbal warning for the first violation and a $27 fine after that.  

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