McWeeds may be coming soon to your community. The state of California last week proposed emergency rules to regulate marijuana when recreational use becomes legal in January.
Some parts of the emergency regulations are urgently needed. But their overall breadth and lack of caution will fulfill big business’s wildest dreams. They will promote the unfettered growth of a new harmful California industry dominated by special interests and wealthy investors, not the health and well-being of our communities.
California communities deserve a proper and transparent public regulatory process before many of these rules get locked into place, possibly forever.
These regulations set no limit on the number of retailers. In contrast, when Washington state legalized marijuana, officials there wisely proceeded cautiously, allowing for one licensed marijuana store per 22,000 residents. Under California’s proposed regulations, a customer could purchase a half a pound of medicinal pot every day, more than in any other state.
Warning labels would use tiny 6-point font, compared to the 12-point font required by the FDA for tobacco product warnings.
The emergency regulations would put marijuana-infused orange juice and meat jerky on the market. Menthol- and mango-flavored products, long used to attract youth to tobacco, seem to be allowed, along with products that would be more than 10 times more potent than traditional weed.
Fast food chains could open take-out stores with cannabis orange soda, a product already for sale in dispensaries, fries and maybe a dabbing doggie bag. Corona Beer’s owners already have bought a large stake in marijuana cultivation in Canada. Will Coca-Cola be next?
California’s response to legalized commercial use of marijuana also misses an opportunity to promote equity and economic development for vulnerable communities.
We need to support initiatives that promote healthy economic development of communities and encourage inclusion in the market for people of color-led and nonprofit businesses. Instead we’ll get “Weedmart.”
The California Department of Public Health’s subset of the proposed new regulations do make some significant progress: not allowing human or animal-shaped edibles, nixing cartoons from packaging and generally saying products shouldn’t be attractive to youth or look like M&M’s. But that’s not enough.
As a state, we have decided to legalize commercial marijuana use. That was a good decision, particularly from a criminal justice perspective. No one should be in jail for possessing marijuana. Unequal application of laws have devastated communities and incarcerated far too many people.
But marijuana use presents major public health concerns. It can cause low birth weight when consumed during pregnancy, precipitate schizophrenia, lead to car accidents, cause breathing problems and generate addiction.
A growing body of evidence suggests lasting harm to the brains of youths who use it regularly. Researchers found daily use of marijuana to be associated with high school graduation rates less than half as high as that of non-users. Evidence of connections between marijuana and heart disease is growing.
California has a unique opportunity to get the legalization of recreational marijuana use right. It should be sold safely without criminalizing large swaths of society, in ways that protect racial and economic justice. But it is imprudent to allow unfettered commercialization and predatory marketing to vulnerable groups. California doesn’t need big businesses pushing modern technicolor extra-strength pot to youth on every corner.
Emergency regulations should cover the very basics. Then we need to spend the time to make sure that the actual regulatory process will do right by our kids, our neighborhoods and all of our communities. We let the tobacco and alcohol industries get away with too much, for too long. We can and must do better on marijuana.
Lynn Silver is a pediatrician with a masters in public health, is director of the Public Health Institute’s Getting it Right from the Start: Local Regulation of Recreational Marijuana, and a clinical professor at UC San Francisco. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.