ImportanceAs marijuana continues to be legalized in many states, little is known about best regulatory practice, exposing the population to significant potential harm.
ObjectiveTo assess the extent to which potential best practices, including those from tobacco control, were incorporated into state and local marijuana policies in California.
Design and settingCalifornia legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and adult recreational use in 2016, effective in January 2018. A cross-sectional study with data collection and analysis from February 1 to November 30, 2019, measured the adoption of potential demand reduction and youth protection best practices, including restrictions on sales, products, marketing, warnings, and taxation. Laws in effect by January 31, 2019, were verified and all 539 California local jurisdictions were studied.
Main outcomes and measuresAdoption of potential best practices in marijuana laws for demand reduction and youth protection.
ResultsThe laws of 534 of California's 539 jurisdictions (99%) were successfully identified; 263 of these 534 jurisdictions (49%) allowed any retail sale of marijuana, covering 57% of the state's population. More than one-third of jurisdictions allow sales of marijuana for adult recreational use (203 of 534 [38%]); of those, 122 allow storefront dispensaries and 81 allow sales by delivery only. A total of 257 of 534 jurisdictions (48%) allow medical sales. Of 147 jurisdictions allowing medical or adult use dispensaries, 93 (63%) limited the number of licenses, with a mean of 1 store for every 19 058 residents (range, 154-355 143). The state imposed no limits on number of dispensaries or deliverers. Forty-two jurisdictions increased the state-specified distances required between dispensaries and schools. Only 8 jurisdictions allowing retail sales imposed restrictions on products exceeding state regulations; 1 prohibited sale of flavored products, 3 prohibited sale of marijuana-infused beverages, and 5 imposed additional restrictions on edible marijuana products. No jurisdictions limited potency of products sold, although 1 established a potency-linked tax. The state did not limit or tax potency, except for establishing a standard 10-mg dose of tetrahydrocannabinol for edible marijuana products, nor did they limit manufacturing or sale of flavored products. The state required only a health warning in 6-point font on packages. Twenty-seven jurisdictions required additional health warnings in stores or on packages, 27 allowed onsite consumption of marijuana products, and 13 allowed marijuana-related events. More than half of jurisdictions legalizing any cannabis commerce (154 of 289 [53%]) did not tax marijuana locally and little revenue was captured for prevention. Much of the state excise and cultivation taxes is slated for youth substance use prevention and treatment.
Conclusions and relevanceIn implementing legalization of marijuana in California, local policies varied widely. Where marijuana was legalized, many lessons from tobacco control to reduce demand, limit harm, and prevent youth use were not adopted, potentially creating greater risk of harm.