Thursday, April 17, 2014

In a policy environment where there are currently no modern examples of marijuana regulation, policy-makers can rely on lessons learned from alcohol and tobacco regulation, according to a paper published today in the American Journal of Public Health.

The authors of the paper, who are noted alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana researchers, recommend that if states decide to experiment with marijuana policy, they should prevent retail price drops, limit marketing, and work hard to measure and prevent impaired driving. They also note the importance of adopting a state monopoly, restricting and monitoring licenses for use and distribution, restricting public consumption, and limiting the types of products sold.

The paper was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research program, with additional support from RAND.

“We are not advocating for or against legalizing marijuana for recreational, medicinal or other uses. But as states consider marijuana legislation, it would be wise to consider the experiences from alcohol and tobacco,” according to lead author Rosalie Pacula PhD, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and director of the Bing Center for Health Economics.

In November 2012 voters in Colorado and Washington passed initiatives that removed the prohibition on marijuana and allowed private companies to produce, distribute and sell marijuana to those 21 years old and older. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

“Colorado and Washington now allow for-profit companies to produce and sell marijuana, but states should know that this route is not the only alternative to marijuana prohibition. States or countries could limit production to co-ops and non-profit organizations, or even set up a state monopoly” explained study co-author Beau Kilmer, PhD, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. “The state monopoly option is rarely discussed in the U.S. since state governments cannot make their employees violate federal law.”

Adopting a state monopoly can help keep prices artificially high, reduce potential harm from misuse or adolescent use, and minimize exposure to marketing.

“From a public health perspective, we feel that independent of specific regulations proposed it would be most prudent for any jurisdiction considering legalization to open up the market slowly” said Pacula.

Besides Pacula and Kilmer, other authors of the paper include: Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD, professor at the Institute for Child Health Policy, University of Florida; Frank J. Chaloupka, professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Jonathan P. Caulkins, professor of Operations Research and Public Policy at the Heinz School, Carnegie Mellon University.

Access the article online through the journal's website:

Bethany Swanson
Public Health Law Research