Monday, April 12, 2021
"Nowhere to Now, Where? Reconciling Public Cannabis Use in a Public Health Legal Framework"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Daniel Orenstein now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:
States continue to legalize recreational cannabis, but most have heavily restricted where consumption of newly licit cannabis is permitted. Every legalizing state has thus far prohibited open, outdoor public use, either limiting lawful use to private property or allowing a small number of licensed indoor venues for consumption outside of public view, an approach borrowed from alcohol control. In contrast, some non-U.S. jurisdictions have adopted a tobacco control approach, allowing limited outdoor public use while prohibiting indoor public use. Each approach presents individual and population health risks that reflect the complex intersection of health, social inequities, and community norms.
Cannabis consumers face uncertain but potentially significant health risks from use, and the relative availability of use locations also implicates existing inequities in policing practices and housing. Those who do not use cannabis but are exposed to others’ use face possible harms from secondhand smoke and from intoxicated behavior, with such risks likely to be inequitably distributed due to existing employment and housing patterns. Communities as a whole also face risks, including that changing cannabis norms may increase use prevalence or intensity and that concentration of cannabis outlets in under-resourced communities may prove as detrimental as the concentration of other disfavored businesses has been.
Each public use approach carries attendant risks, but a regulatory framework based on the tobacco control model best balances the protection of public health and the promotion of equity and social justice. This model recognizes the parallels between cannabis and tobacco (in addition to those between cannabis and alcohol). This approach also provides a pathway to mitigating the public health risks of cannabis legalization by leveraging an approach that has proven effective at reducing secondhand exposures and denormalizing smoking behavior in the tobacco context.