Wednesday, February 3, 2016
As reported in this local piece out of California, "Researchers warn legal marijuana could be next Big Tobacco," a pair of public health scholars have produced this interesting new report examining marijuana reform proposals in Califronia from a public health persepctive. Here is the start of the press account of the report and some reaction thereto:
A ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana would likely launch a new profit-driven industry similar to Big Tobacco that could impede public health efforts, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. The 66-page analysis, released Tuesday, is the first in-depth look at the state’s main effort to legalize recreational marijuana this year.
Researchers said they began with the premise that legalizing marijuana makes sense because its prohibition has put too many people behind bars and cost taxpayers too much money. But they concluded the two potential initiatives they examined would replace a crime problem with a public health issue.
The authors, Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz, of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy, said the measure most likely to qualify for the ballot establishes a regulatory system similar to the one used for alcohol. They said it would have been better to pattern the guidelines after the state’s Tobacco Control Program, which they credited with reducing the health effects and costs related to tobacco.
“Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to reduce use and profits,” the report states.
In an interview, Glantz said treating marijuana like cigarettes could drive down its popularity. “The goal (should be) to legalize it so that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants,” he said.
He worries that a new marijuana industry would spend large sums of money to curry favor with lawmakers. “I think a corporate takeover of the market ... is very, very hard to stop,” he said, adding, “They are already a potent lobbyist in California.”
A spokesman for the legalization campaign noted the report was written by experts on tobacco, not marijuana, and said it makes broad assumptions unsupported by past research into the issue. The measure is drafted in a way that takes public health into account, Jason Kinney said. “This report inexplicably chooses to ignore the extensive public health protections and mandate included in our measure – as well as the child safeguards, the small-business and anti-monopoly provisions and the unprecedented investments in youth prevention, education and treatment,” Kinney said.
The leading measure seeks to legitimize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six marijuana plants for adults 21 and over. One of the proponents, Donald Lyman, a retired physician, helped write the California Medical Association’s 2011 policy calling for the legalization of marijuana.
The doctors’ lobby formally endorsed the main legalization measure on Monday, characterizing it as a “comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure.” For years, some doctors have complained they have become gatekeepers for healthy people seeking weed recommendations via a flawed medical marijuana system.
Lyman, a former state public health official, said the notion that marijuana must be regulated exactly like tobacco “represents an awkward minority opinion not widely shared within the public health community.” Lyman said it is widely accepted in the scientific community that marijuana has medical benefits, something that isn’t true of tobacco.
This notable new report is titled "A Public Health Analysis of Two Proposed Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for the 2016 California Ballot: Creating the New Tobacco Industry," and it is available at this link.