Don’t let the cannabis industry become the next Big Tobacco.
This is the case made by University of California San Francisco researches in an analysis published on September 27 in the medical journal PLOS Medicine.
There are five states with legalization initiatives on the ballot for November: California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts.
“Current state marijuana laws and pending legalization initiatives are modeled on U.S. alcohol policies, which prioritize commercialization and tax revenue generation at the expense of public health,” said lead author and UCSF policy analyst Rachel Barry in a release. “Without effective controls in place, it is likely that a large marijuana industry, akin to tobacco and alcohol, will quickly emerge and work to manipulate regulatory frameworks, while using aggressive marketing strategies and product design technology to increase and sustain use, with a corresponding increase in social and health costs.”
One suggestion the researchers make is that rule making committees should not have cannabis industry representation. But the state initiatives up for vote this November that establish rule making committees explicitly allow for industry representation; in Massachusetts, roughly half of the committee will be comprised of cannabis industry or community members.
The researchers also suggest a single regulatory system for medical and non-medical sales, though none of the initiatives call for that. So far, only Washington state has implemented this type of system, in which retail shops may sell cannabis for either medical or nonmedical use.
Another suggestions include prohibiting advertising and event sponsorship, and establishing taxes high enough to cover subsequent health costs from legalized cannabis use. Nationally, proposed tax rates on legal cannabis have fallen since Colorado and Washington voters first legalized cannabis in 2012; while the tax rate is over 30% in Washington state, Massachusetts, for example, proposes a 3.75% tax rate.
The authors of the research paper propose state-run cannabis sales, but so far only commercial models based on alcohol regulation have taken root. While the authors refer to both alcohol and tobacco regulation in the analysis, the latter approach would lead to much more restrictive state programs than currently seen because alcohol consumption is not as stigmatized as tobacco use.