Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Colorado Lessons: Marijuana Costs Cross County Lines

Like Washington State, Colorado is seeking ways to limit the unintended consequences of the retail marijuana industry. As Washington prepares for another round of marijuana debates in the legislature, some important lessons can be learned from our Rocky Mountain neighbors. For one, that the retail marijuana industry has far reaching social costs that are showing up all across Colorado, not just in those counties with retail marijuana sales.

This post in Denver Westward points out that the social costs of cannabis are crossing county lines in Colorado into areas that have banned retail marijuana. The post points out that "banned" counties are experiencing the same increase in arrests, traffic violations, and other new demands on law enforcement seen in regions open to the industry. Other unexpected costs in these areas include those associated with additional demands on child welfare and social services linked to marijuana. There are also calls for additional funding for youth education/ prevention campaigns and additional services in counties without a visible industry footprint.

Map of Colorado Counties

As Washington State considers legislation to mitigate the impact of legal marijuana, it is important to consider all the hidden social costs. For example, when debating "pay to play" funding that rewards only those cities and counties that DO NOT BAN marijuana with a share of tax proceeds, one should consider lessons learned in Colorado-- that the true costs of the retail marijuana industry do not stop at the city or county line.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Marijuana Arrests and Social Justice

An important feature of the marijuana legalization debate centers on the issue of social justice and the disproportionate arrest rates of people of color and in communities of color. Legalization proponents argued that legalizing simple marijuana possession for adults will have a tangible benefit in this arena. Hopefully so. But does this really get at the root cause of the issue?

One has to ask, will creating a recreational marijuana industry really have a net positive impact on the issue of social justice? Will communities of color where marijuana retail stores are opening in greater numbers somehow be immune to the kind of negative consequences they already face from high-density alcohol and tobacco stores? What about addiction rates, crimes against persons, and health consequences? What will the effect be on youth for whom possession remains illegal?

Here is an interview with Project SAM Director, Dr. Kevin Sabet, who calls into question the wisdom of legalizing marijuana to reduce the number of unfair drug arrests. He points out that legalization, and the "Big Tobacco 2.0" it will create, has far reaching negative effects for all communities, and we all should be paying attention.

Although we may have removed adult marijuana possession as a vehicle for institutionalized oppression, we need to remain vigilant to its continued influence on all Washington communities.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

WA superior court judges rule that local governments can ban marijuana businesses

On December 4, 2014, a fourth superior court judge concluded that nothing in Initiative 502 overrides local governments’ authority to regulate or ban marijuana businesses. Every court to consider this issue has now agreed.

This most recent ruling came from Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Michael Evans in the case of Emerald Enterprises LLC & John M Larson v. Clark County. Because the case was against Clark County itself, the plaintiffs chose to file in neighboring Cowlitz County. The plaintiffs in the case sought to open a marijuana business in Clark County despite the county’s ban on such businesses. A formal opinion released by the WA Attorney General's Office in January 2014 concluded that, as drafted, I-502 does not prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses.  

Judge Evans is now the fourth judge to agree with the AGO opinion that nothing in Initiative 502 overrides local governments’ authority to regulate or ban marijuana businesses. This ruling follows Benton County Superior Court Judge Vic VanderSchoor’s ruling in November in a similar case involving the City of Kennewick, Chelan County Superior Court Judge T.W. Small’s ruling in October in a similar case involving the City of Wenatchee and Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper’s ruling in August in a similar case involving the City of Fife. If courts continue to agree with the AGO opinion that I-502 does not require local governments and counties to allow marijuana businesses, they will not need to decide in these cases whether federal law preempts I-502. This allows I-502 to continue to be implemented.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Free webinar: Secure medicine take-back: Local solutions through extended producer responsibility laws

The California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) is hosting a free webinar:
Secure Medicine Take-Back: Local Solutions Through Extended Producer Responsibility Laws
Tuesday, December 2, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m.

Medicine return programs are part of a multi-pronged approach to preventing youth prescription and over-the-counter medicine abuse.  

In this webinar, CPSC brings together key local government officials and experts to share their experiences on how they passed local producer responsibility ordinances for pharmaceuticals, including King County's. This webinar will educate and provide tools to any advocate or government official interested in learning how producers and others in the product chain can share in the cost and responsibility for managing their products at end of life and the role of government in oversight of producer run programs. 

Webinar Agenda

9:00 Welcome – Lynn France, CPSC Board Chair

9:05 What is Producer Responsibility for Medicine Collection? - David Stitzal, Full Circle Environmental

9:10 Why EPR is a Policy to Consider for Safe Medicine Disposal? – Heidi Sanborn

9:15 Status of Pharmaceutical Industry Legal Challenge to Alameda County Ordinance – Kathleen Pacheco, Senior Deputy County Counsel, Alameda County

9:20 Alameda County, CA Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance - Bill Pollock, Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste Program Manager

9:30 King County, WA Secure Medicine Return Ordinance – Margaret Shield, Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County

9:40 City/Co of San Francisco, CA Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance Development - Maggie Johnson, San Francisco Department of the Environment

9:45 Other Local Options and Tools for Increasing Safe Medicine Disposal – Heidi

9:50 Questions and Answers

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Marijuana edibles in WA

The Liquor Control Board (LCB) recently proposed new rules to govern what types of marijuana-infused foods they will allow to be made (processed) and sold as part of Washington’s recreational marijuana system.  The LCB does not regulate the medical marijuana market so these rules only apply to the recreational (I-502) market. 

To learn more about medical and recreational marijuana-infused foods, watch the story KCTS recently broadcast about these growing markets.

Preventing teen marijuana use: What works

What programs are most effective for preventing teen marijuana use?  That question is being studied by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) which recently released an updated review of scientific evidence about prevention programs.  They reviewed 23 youth marijuana prevention and treatment programs  and categorized them as "evidence-based", "research-based", or "promising."  

The top ten prevention programs identified by WSIPP are:

  1. Life Skills Training
  2. Communities That Care
  3. Project STAR
  4. Lions Quest Skills for Adolescence
  5. SPORT
  6. Keepin’ it REAL
  7. Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth 10-14
  8. Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care
  9. Case management in schools
  10. Project Northland
Detailed information about these programs may be found on the National Registry for Evidence-based Programs and Practices website.  

While WASAVP advocates for the funding of these programs, the WSIPP list does not include policies proven to reduce youth access to drugs which is the focus of most of WASAVP's work.  The Guide to Community Preventive Services is the place to start to gain an understanding of public policies that prevent youth alcohol and tobacco use.  Among effective policies are those that limit the density of retailers that sell alcohol and tobacco, the enforcement of minor in possession laws, and taxes.  

Local marijuana ordinances in WA

In the past, WASAVP's online marijuana policy toolkit included a list of local ordinances adopted across Washington regarding recreational marijuana businesses.  Since the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) collects identical information, WASAVP now refers youth substance use prevention advocates to the MRSC website.

The website includes a map showing jurisdictions that have adopted zoning ordinances, moratoriums, and bans on marijuana businesses with links to policy documents.

The website also includes information about lawsuits against cities that ban marijuana businesses, law enforcement, and marijuana tax revenue.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Another school district reports increase in student marijuana-related incidents

Last school year Seattle Public Schools reported an increase in the number of students attending school under the influence or in possession of marijuana and now the Edmonds School District is reporting the same.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Governor briefed about state youth marijuana prevention activities

Decreasing the percentage of 10th grade students who report smoking marijuana in the past 30 days from 19.3% to 18% by 2017 is one of Results Washington's goals for creating healthy communities.  In addition to preventing marijuana DUIs, state leaders briefed Governor Inslee on this goal during a meeting on September 24.

The discussion about youth marijuana use prevention starts at about 1:12 of the video.  The secretaries of the Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Health provide an overview of current and planned prevention activities.

At about 1:43 the governor asked a question about marijuana-infused foods to ensure they are not overly attractive to youth.  Rick Garza from the Liquor Control Board said that they are not allowing products that are:
  • brightly colored;
  • sugar coated;
  • anything that is "typically what a child would see and find appealing;"
  • mimicking candy bars.
He also said that the medical marijuana law needs to be changed to address marijuana-infused foods because they are currently not regulated under state law.
Medical marijuana is the "wild west" right now according to the governor.  Mr. Garza confirmed that there are no regulations on medical marijuana products that are attractive to youth.

The governor also asked about the use of fear tactics in marijuana prevention campaigns.  Mona Johnson from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction replied that many years of prevention science research shows that scare tactics do not work and that prevention programs today don't use them.  The importance of educating parents about prevention was also discussed. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Liquor Control Board answers questions about marijuana advertising

Legal marijuana businesses are trying to determine how best to market their products and stay within our state’s recreational marijuana law.  This week, the Liquor Control Board released answers to frequently asked questions from marijuana business licensees.  (They do not apply to medical marijuana businesses.)   Here are a few:

Online Advertising

May I have a website to promote my company? Are there any limitations on a company website?
Yes you may have a website to advertise your business. However, the law does not allow a business to use a website to sell marijuana/marijuana products. All recreational marijuana sales must take place at a licensed marijuana premises.

Can I use social media to promote my business?
Yes. Please use social media with caution and be mindful not to appeal to, or solicit, viewers under the age of 21. If possible, please restrict views to adults age 21 and older.

Am I able to produce a YouTube page with comedy commercials promoting my marijuana business?
Yes. Please use social media with caution and to be mindful not to appeal to, or solicit, viewers under the age of 21. If possible, please restrict views to adults age 21 and older.

Am I able to have a mascot in the YouTube commercial?
Yes, as long as the mascot is not a cartoon character or is appealing to children. 

Traditional Advertising


May I set up a separate business to promote my marijuana retail store?
Yes. That would be allowed if the business is used to sell t-shirts, hats etc. Those items, however, could not be sold within your retail marijuana store.

May I advertise for cannabis on the radio and TV?
The law states that licensed marijuana producers, processors and retailers “may not advertise marijuana or marijuana-infused products in any form through any medium whatsoever within one-thousand feet of the perimeter of a school ground, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park or library, or any game arcade admission to which is not restricted to persons aged twenty-one years or older.” The fine is $1,000 for each violation.

Although print media, such as newspapers, are often delivered to locations at or near schools, the LCB does not intend to enforce the 1,000’ buffer for newspaper advertising as long as the advertising does not violate other provisions of I-502.

Television and radio, of course, carry across state lines as well as places where children can see or hear. TV and radio are also regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Licensees should consult with their attorney and media-buyer or other advertising sales representative to ensure cannabis/related advertisements are permissible.

Monday, August 25, 2014

As I-502 is implemented, an understanding of prevention is needed

The need to scientifically-define prevention is once again obvious when reading the latest Brookings Institute report on our state’s implementation and evaluation of I-502.  In the report, the author notes that some marijuana revenue is dedicated to funding prevention and treatment programs.  He claims, “Given the paucity of good scientific information about marijuana, this is a tall order . . .”  In fact, research has already shown what works to prevent adolescent marijuana use.  A few examples of evidence-based programs are:

Revenue from I-502 earmarked for prevention will fund community coalitions.  These coalitions will then identify drug-related risk factors particular to their communities and implement programs, policies, and practices that are proven to reduce those risk factors.  The programs listed above are examples of prevention activities to be implemented, but community-based policies and practices (also called “environmental” strategies) will also be implemented. 

What we don’t know is if policies and practices that work for preventing alcohol and tobacco use among adolescents will work for marijuana since it has never been marketed and sold like alcohol and tobacco.  Right now, prevention providers advocate for the following policies that are best practices for alcohol and tobacco prevention:
  • Limit the number of retailers that sell the drugs in a community. 
  • Limit days and hours of sale.
  • Levy high taxes on the drugs.
  • Enforce age limits for purchasing and using.
  • Limit where products may be consumed.

Most of these policies are included in the new marijuana system.  The policies limiting the number of marijuana stores in a community, limiting hours of sale, limiting where marijuana products may be consumed, and high taxes on marijuana should be maintained and studied.  As the Brookings paper suggests, this is an experiment and we should strive to learn as much as possible from it. These policies work for alcohol and marijuana, we should find out if they work for marijuana, too.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

How to influence change in your community

Founder of Citizen University in Seattle, Eric Liu recently gave a TED Talk about the importance of every-day individuals actively participating in local decision making.

This is an important topic for those of us advocating for public policy that supports healthy youth development.  To have our voices heard by decision makers, Mr. Liu advises citizens to use the following five skills:

1. Understand the system: Determine how decisions are made in your community and who makes them.  Who most influences those bodies?  What do you need to do to gain more power to influence decisions?

2. Identify your objective: What specifically do you want to change?

3. Sharpen your sense of strategy: Organize people by using social media or other communication tools.  Build alliances with others concerned about substance abuse prevention and healthy youth development.  

4.  Tell a story: Offer a story that people can relate to and share the solution you envision.  Here in King County, the most meaningful testimony for the adoption of a medicine return program came from parents of children who struggled with addiction to pain medications and whose children overdosed and died.

5. Practice: The more you advocate for policies that promote healthy and safe environments for children, the better you will become at it.  Learn from successes and challenges and share what you know.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Marijuana advertising milestone

Another legal marijuana milestone: the billboard ad campaign.

This billboard sure looks a lot like old "lifestyle" ads for beer and cigarettes.

In their press release, the company advertising their products says:

We've seen a lot of curiosity from the recreational market and hopefully that curiosity will translate to affinity for our brands," said Dax Colwell, co-founder of New Leaf Enterprises. "Our goal is to build brand awareness and educate the market about safe, lab-tested Cannabis, in an effort to minimize the stigma that Cannabis products face with legalization."

Moving forward, New Leaf Enterprises plans to increase its marketing investment by 200% in 2015, setting the pace for emerging companies in the cannabis industry. It will continue to invest in media awareness for its Dàmà products in an effort to educate the public about responsible use for Cannabis products, and to create a dialog to overcome stereotypes about the use of Cannabis products.

First list of approved marijuana-infused foods released today

Today, the Liquor Control Board released the first list of marijuana-infused products that they approved for sale in recreational marijuana shops in our state.  The list includes the following marijuana-infused products:

Rainier Cherry Soda
Pomegranate Soda
Lemon Ginger Soda
Cannabis Infused Single Shots - Tart Cherry
Cannabis Infused Lemongrass Nuggets
Cannabis Infused Chili Cinnamon Fire Nuggets
420 Party Mix
Assorted Cookies
Cookies & Cream Bar
Crazy Carnival Nuts
Dark Chocolate Bar
Twisted Trail Mix

How Florida reduced prescription drug related deaths

The following message from the Florida Attorney General provides a good example of how effective policies and their enforcement can be in preventing substance abuse.  Policies are especially effective when they address problems specific to a community, in this case the state of Florida.  

At the beginning of my term, prescription drug overdoses were steadily rising over the past seven years. Florida was known as the “pill mill capital of the country” with drug dealers from all over the country traveling to my state to stock up on prescription painkillers. Ninety-eight of the top 100 Oxycodone dispensing doctors lived in Florida. Florida gained national notoriety because of the pill mills throughout the state that were prescribing and dispensing large amounts of controlled substances outside the scopes of standard medical practice. Florida became the destination for distributors and abusers, and seven Floridians were dying every day as a result.

In response, we began implementing various laws and enforcement actions to reverse this alarming trend.  I made fighting this epidemic a top priority and worked with state legislators to pass a tough new law cracking down on pill mills that included prohibiting physicians from dispensing Schedule II and III drugs. Law enforcement then began statewide raids resulting in thousands of arrests including more than 70 pill mill doctors, seizures of more than $10 million, and more than 240 pill mills closing.  I also helped create the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns, which examined the extent of prescription drug abuse among expectant mothers, as well as the costs of caring and the long-term effects for babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Thanks to all of these multi-faceted efforts, pill mills have been closed and Florida is no longer the “pill mill capital of the country.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report on Florida’s success in reversing drug overdose trends. The analysis showed that the crackdown in Florida was followed by a significant decline in prescription drug abuse.  Florida now has the first documented substantial decline in drug overdoes mortality of a state during the past 10 years, and prescription drug related deaths have decreased by 23 percent from 2010 to 2012. 

More information is available on the Attorney General’s website.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cities & counties hurt by liquor privatization

Liquor privatization has hurt local governments and their ability to provide alcohol-related public safety services according to an opinion published in today’s Seattle Times.

Though I-1183 proponents promised more money to address alcohol-related harms, funding was cut.   “In 2012, the state Legislature was balancing its budget and chose to ignore the voters and I-1183’s clear wording. Lawmakers diverted more than $100 million in liquor revenue from cities and counties to the state’s general fund,” write the authors.

They go on to note, “City and county law enforcement currently handle half of all DUI arrests, and cities employ two-thirds of the state’s public safety personnel. The Legislature’s action to reduce liquor revenues for local government is a direct cut to funding for local law enforcement.”

As those of us who advocate for substance abuse-related policy know, diversion of dedicated revenue is nothing new.  The state’s highly successful tobacco prevention program was decimated a few years ago when the legislature diverted dedicated prevention funding to the general fund.

Since even recent history apparently repeats, it is not surprising that public health advocates are concerned about marijuana revenue.  I-502 dedicates marijuana revenue for prevention programming, but how long will it be before it is diverted to the general fund, especially considering our state government still needs to fill holes in their budget?  

Local jurisdictions also have concerns about the impact of I-502 on their budgets.  The opinion piece states, “Marijuana legalization will add new costs for local law enforcement to police legal sales, crack down on the illegal black market and to enforce impaired-driving laws. However, to add insult to the injury of the liquor-revenue cuts, the Legislature has ignored cities’ and counties’ requests to recognize the local impact from marijuana legalization, and share some of the estimated millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Marijuana poisonings among kids are up

Source: Washington Poison Center
Pediatric exposures to marijuana reported to the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) are on the rise in our state.  As of July 7, 54 cases were reported to the WAPC while in all of 2013 58 cases were reported.  As with all poisonings, the WAPC says marijuana poisonings are likely under-reported.

Earlier this year, study results published in JAMA-Pediatrics reported similar problems in Colorado.  

Susan Mazor, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a medical toxicologist at Children’s and the WAPC, says that it makes sense that as marijuana becomes more available in the community, children’s exposures to the drug increases. “More availability of any poison usually translates to more unintentional poisonings in kids,” she says.

In an editorial accompanying the JAMA-Pediatrics article, a public health response is called for:

The public health community needs to be vigilant for unintended consequences of legalized marijuana, such as increased ingestion by children as reported . . . Unfortunately, as with tobacco, some of the most significant health consequences will likely take years to manifest.

In the meantime, we can inform the public about the known harms of marijuana even in states where use has been made legal. This has been happening with tobacco. While rates of adolescent tobacco use remain unacceptably high, they have fallen dramatically since their peak in 1996.  It is nearly impossible to be sentient in 2013 and not know about the health consequences of tobacco. Anecdotally, nearly all of the patients treated in the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital who use tobacco would like to quit because of health concerns, while few adolescents can understand why we advise them to stop using marijuana. The skyrocketing rates of adolescent  marijuana use indicate that we are losing an important public health battle and we have a lot of work to do if we want to reverse these trends.

While our state has made available education materials encouraging parents to talk to their children about not using marijuana, education also needs to be done about the availability of marijuana in homes.  Since I-502 funding for marijuana education campaigns has yet to come in, other sources of funding need to be found by policy makers on the state and local levels.  

As we know from experiences with alcohol and tobacco, and is evident with these latest reports about marijuana, increased availability of a drug is harmful to children.  Limiting availability is one step policy makers can take to ensure that fewer children are exposed to marijuana.  Keeping the number of retail recreational marijuana stores as it is now and eliminating medical marijuana stores is good public health policy.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Limiting marijuana promotion to reduce public health implications

Though most of his message is a little late for Washington, Dr. DuPont makes the case for limiting the promotion of marijuana as a way to reduce public health costs.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Federal budget cuts hurt local substance abuse prevention and treatment programs

In a time when Washington wants to treat substance use more as a public health issue than a justice system issue, public health funding is not keeping up with changing laws.  Not only has our state reduced funding for substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, the federal government has, too.  According to a report by the Coalition for Health Funding, overall federal funding for public health programs has been drastically cut over the past four years and federal agencies that deal with substance abuse prevention and treatment have been affected the most.

The National Institute of Health (NIH), which includes the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and comprises about half the federal government’s spending on public health, has experienced a 10 percent budget cut over the past year.  
Funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been slashed by 16 percent and funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which includes the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), has been cut about 8 percent.

In our state, most substance abuse prevention programming is implemented through coalitions.  The state’s Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative coalitions are funded with Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment block grant monies from SAMHSA.  Drug Free Communities coalitions are also funded through SAMHSA.  Federal cuts to the SAMHSA budget reduce our state’s primary source of prevention funding.   

If Washington is serious about treating substance abuse as a public health issue, and it's not just political rhetoric, both federal and state policy makers need to increase prevention and treatment funds, not reduce or eliminate them.  

No pot gummy bears? WSLCB: Marijuana products that are appealing to children are prohibited

Since the adoption of I-502, I’ve been asking public health advocates, “If we could better regulate the tobacco industry before it became Big Tobacco, what would we do?”  As Washington develops a marijuana industry, answers to that question can guide the way.

This week, the Liquor Control Board adopted a process for approving marijuana-infused foods and beverages to attempt to reduce the number of products that appeal to youth.  This is a wise move considering what public health experts know about alcohol and tobacco products that are attractive to youth. 

As we know from our experiences with tobacco and alcohol, some products are attractive to youth even though they are to be consumed only by people over the age of 21. 
  • For instance, several years ago 20% of smokers ages 17 to 19 reported using flavored tobacco products within the last 30 days, compared to 6% of adult smokers.  Soon after the study that produced this finding was released, the Food and Drug Administration banned flavored cigarettes.  Now the FDA is in the process of determining how to regulate e-cigarettes, including flavored nicotine products.    
  • Flavored alcoholic beverages are highly popular among underage drinkers.  A recent study shows that among alcohol brands favored by underage drinkers, Smirnoff malt beverages are popular.  This brand includes flavors like blue raspberry lemonade, pineapple, green apple, grape, root beer, and root beer float.  
Regulating products so that they do  not appeal to children is an important component of a multi-pronged strategy for preventing underage substance use.  The LCB's regulations for marijuana-infused products are a perfect example of how multiple sectors in our state have roles to play to prevent underage marijuana use.  

Throwback Thursday: Flavored cigarettes banned for public health reasons

In 2007, the World Health Organization released The Scientific Basis of Tobacco Product Regulation, a report that included information about the public health impacts of flavored tobacco products.  From the report:

Basic public health principles dictate that flavours should not be used to adulterate contaminated food or make highly dependence-causing drugs more enticing.

Studies based on the tobacco industry’s internal documents suggest that flavouring agents may also play an important role in the industry’s targeting of young and inexperienced smokers. Menthol has been used to target new smokers across different ethnic groups, and additives such as chocolate, vanillin and licorice have been part of an intensive industry effort to increase the market share of the Camel brand within the youth market. Additives have also been shown to promote smoking among youths by masking the negative taste of tobacco smoke with flavours.

In 2009, in response to public health concerns, the Food and Drug Administration banned cigarettes that contain flavors other than tobacco or menthol. The ban includes cigarettes that contain “an artificial or natural flavor . . . including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry, or coffee, that is a characterizing flavor of the tobacco product or tobacco smoke.”

Public health concerns included flavored cigarette use rates among young people.  At the time of the WHO’s report, 20% of smokers between ages 17 to 19 reported using flavored cigarettes within the last 30 days, compared to 6% of adult smokers.

Online resources from the Public Health Law Center at William Mitchell College of Law provide prevention advocates and policy makers with information on how to regulate tobacco and related products. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why investing in drug use prevention is important

“The state is no longer wasting law enforcement time on marijuana use,” according to a recent Seattle Times opinion piece about I-502, the initiative that decriminalized and legalized marijuana. 

In 2004, a Seattle Times article about Seattle’s Initiative 75, which made marijuana the lowest enforcement priority for police, reported similar results.  Statistics for the first six months of 2004 show that the city has prosecuted just 18 cases of marijuana possession compared with roughly 70 during the same time period last year.  In other words, de-facto decriminalization worked to reduce the number of people arrested and prosecuted for marijuana offences. 

According to a recent report from the National Academies of Science (NAS), the rise in United States incarceration rates can be attributed to “significantly increased sentence lengths, required prison time for minor offenses, and intensified punishment for drug crimes.”  Racial disparities in incarceration rates are exacerbated by sentencing laws, such as three strikes and mandatory minimums, and by “law enforcement strategies associated with the war on drugs.”  In other words, how laws are enforced and how people are sentenced are the primary factors leading to high incarceration rates. 

Authors of the NAS report offer specific suggestions for reducing incarcerations rates:
  • changing sentencing policies, especially those having to do with the enforcement of drug laws;
  • changing prison policies;
  • addressing social policies especially those addressing “economic insecurity, low education, and poor health that are associated with incarceration in the nation’s poorest communities.  Solutions to these problems are outside of the criminal justice systems, and they will include policies that address school drop-out, drug addiction, mental illness, and neighborhood poverty – all of which are intimately connected to incarceration.”  

That’s where youth drug use prevention comes in.  Preventing the onset of drug use among teenagers prevents school drop-out, drug addiction, some mental illnesses, and supports healthy youth development.  To be most effective, multiple community partners must join together to prevent teen drug use.  Parents and schools are only part of effective drug use prevention strategies.  Organizations concerned with economic insecurity, health, and the justice system also have stakes in keeping kids drug-free. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

WA House Committee updated about the implementation of I-502

Earlier this week, the Washington House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee held a work session about the implementation of I-502.  For a limited time, a recording of the session may be viewed online.

From a youth substance use prevention point of view, a few discussion items stuck out.

  • Marijuana business owners repeatedly stated that the medical marijuana market and the recreational marijuana market should not co-exist.  One said that the medical marijuana market "is the black market" and another one called it a "free for all."  They agreed that the medical marijuana market is going to be a problem for I-502 businesses.
  • A few people talked about the need for preventing youth marijuana use and said that children and parents need to know about the negative affects of the drug on the developing brain.  Nobody talked about how policy is a key part of a comprehensive prevention strategy.  
  • The University of Washington is conducting research on the impact of I-502 retail stores on the communities in which they are located.  The research will be conducted in King County and look at youth use rates, crime  rates, and economic impact.  Representative Hurst wondered if marijuana stores will really have much of an impact on communities since we already have "a saturated market" and people who want marijuana can easily get it. 
  • Throughout the work session it was obvious that most people think that the marijuana system is going to change a great deal over the years.  Just like the alcohol system, rules will change.  Liquor Control Board Director Garza predicted that more marijuana business licenses, including retail licenses, eventually will be issued by the agency.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Tobacco companies cast doubt on research

From "Inventing Conflicts of Interest: A History of Tobacco Industry Tactics" published in the January 2012 edition of the American Journal of Public Health:

"One R.J. Reynolds official announced to other industry executives in November 1953 that the company had formed a bureau of scientific information to 'combat the propaganda which is being directed at the tobacco industry.'  At the same time, American Tobacco began to collect the public statements of scientists who had expressed skepticism about the research findings indicting tobacco.  The company's own public relations counsel understood that it would be critical to create questions about the reliability of new findings and to attack the notion that these studies constituted proof of the relationship of smoking to cancer."

The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library includes tobacco industry videos used to attempt to debunk research showing that smoking is harmful to health.

Click here to view videos that cast doubt on scientific research including one in which it is suggested that auto emissions, not cigarettes, may be to blame for increasing rates of lung cancer.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Liquor Control Board issues first marijuana retail licenses

From the Liquor Control Board: 

The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) today issued the state’s first 24 marijuana retailer licenses. A complete listing, including contact information of the new retail licensees, can be found online within the Public Records section of the WSLCB website.

The 24 applicants were notified via email early this morning that they were approved for a retail license. Once approved for a license, producers and/or processors are able to file a required manifest for transporting to retail locations. Following a 24 hour quarantine period, they may begin transporting products to retail stores. Marijuana retailers may begin selling marijuana at their discretion following receipt of product and entering it in to the traceability system.

Businesses receiving their licenses today represent the first of 334 licenses allotted by the WSLCB for retail sales who have successfully completed the licensing process. Locations receiving licenses were selected by taking into account population, geographic dispersion and the individual applicant’s readiness to be licensed.

Today’s issuance of the first retail licenses represents the latest step following nearly 18 months of establishing a controlled and comprehensive system of producing, processing and retailing recreational marijuana.

The WSLCB was especially concerned with the impact to children. There are strict rules regarding packaging, labeling and advertising to ensure they not appeal to children. In June, the LCB announced emergency rules that include a label and product approval process.

WSLCB licensing investigators will continue to issue producer, processor and retailer licenses as those applications are completed. To date the WSLCB has licensed over 687,000 square feet of plant canopy for marijuana production, roughly the equivalent of a dozen football fields.

For more information including summaries of the rules frequently requested lists please visit the LCB website at

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Where will marijuana tax revenue go?

Once marijuana is sold in stores, revenue from sales will be directed to several areas.

Tier 1: Funds collected through marijuana excise taxes, license fees, penalties, and forfeitures will be distributed every three months as follows:
  • $1,250,000 to the Liquor Control Board to administer the marijuana system.
  • $125,000 to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to administer the Healthy Youth Survey, analyze data, and produce reports.
  • $50,000 to the Washington Institute for Public Policy to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and produce four reports from September 2015 to September 2032.
  • $5,000 to the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute to develop and maintain web-based public education materials with scientifically accurate information about the health and safety risks of marijuana.  
Tier 2: Of the dollars that remain, the following will receive funding:
  • 50% to the Basic Health Plan.
  • 19.07% to the General Fund.
  • 15% to DSHS to implement substance use prevention strategies among middle and  high school students. 
  • 10% to the Department of Health to implement a marijuana education and public health programs.
  • 5% to community health centers for primary health and dental care services, migrant health services, and maternity health care services.
  • 0.06% to the University of Washington and 0.04% to Washington State University for marijuana research.
  • 0.03% to the Building Bridges programs.  
Any of the above can be changed by lawmakers starting next legislative session.  With lawmakers looking to fill budget shortfalls, especially education funding shortfalls, earmarks for prevention needs to be guarded.

Even if the earmarks remain untouched, it is unclear how much revenue will actually be generated by the new marijuana market.  The Liquor Control Board does not expect that all marijuana consumers will use the new system at first, limiting the amount of revenue generated in the short run.  According to researchers, 24% of the current market is made up of people under the age of 21 who will never use the legal "recreational" market. Some predict that a minority of current adult marijuana users will ever use the new market.

Right now, predictions are all that we have to go on.  It may be a few years before we know how much money communities will receive to fully implement prevention strategies.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Liquor Control Board to limit marijuana-infused products appealing to children

Today, the Washington State Liquor Control Board adopted emergency rules adding a requirement that all marijuana-infused products, packaging, and labeling be approved by them.  The rules are to clarify the types of marijuana-infused products the board will allow to be produced and sold.  The board's issue paper on the emergency rules states:

"Many marijuana-infused products on the medical marijuana market today are appealing to children.  Products such as lollipops, gummy bears, and cotton candy are very appealing to children too young to read a label."

To gain approval from the board, marijuana processors must submit a picture of the product, its label, and packaging to them.  The board will not approve products that appeal to children. 

Marijuana-infused products that look like foods and beverages that children commonly eat and drink have been a concern for WASAVP and adolescent substance use prevention advocates even prior to the I-502 vote.  Concerns were expressed to the Liquor Control Board during their rule-making process and as they developed recommendations for reconciling the recreational and medical marijuana systems. 

The emergency rules also include guidelines regarding serving sizes.  The new rules read:

"Marijuana-infused products in solid form that contain more than one serving must be scored to indicate individual serving sizes, and labeled so that the serving size is prominently displayed on the packaging."

"Marijuana-infused products must be homogenized to ensure uniform disbursement of cannabinoids throughout the product."  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

State agencies preparing to address health and safety problems associated with marijuana use

Earlier today, Governor Inslee and state agencies held a press conference about the new marijuana system in our state.  Here are my notes: 

Governor Inslee:
  • First retail “recreational” marijuana stores to open July 8
  • No recreational marijuana for people under the age of 21.
  • Public safety is his top priority. 
  • Liquor Control Board to adopt rules regarding edibles that are particularly attractive to youth.
  • Drive high get a DUI.
  • Marijuana revenue will not solve state fiscal problems.  Billion dollar deficit won’t be filled considering marijuana revenue will likely only fill in 1% of the budget shortfall.

Attorney General Ferguson:  Just like his office was instrumental in reducing tobacco marketing to youth, his office will work to reduce marijuana marketing to youth.  

Liquor Control Board Chair Foster:
  • On July 7 they will issue about 20 retail licenses which means stores can open July 8 if they have product.
  • Today’s marijuana is much more potent than it used to be.
  • She doesn’t want to see “marijuana candy bars laying around somebody’s coffee table” and eaten by children. 
  • Tomorrow the Board will adopt emergency rules requiring all edible marijuana product labels, and possibly edible marijuana products, to be approved by the Board to ensure they do not appeal to youth.  Emergency rules go into effect immediately.

State Health Officer Lofy provided an overview of negative health impacts of marijuana, particularly among youth.  The Department of Health launched a media campaign to help parents talk to their children about marijuana.    

Washington State Patrol Chief  Batiste:
  • In Washington there are 220 drug recognition officers available to assist troopers and other law enforcement officials in arresting people driving under the influence of marijuana.   State police have been able to effectively detect marijuana DUI for a long time.
  • The state toxicologist reports an uptick in marijuana DUIs last year