In the years following the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, we have seen a number of cannabis industry representatives attempt to secure business licenses in Marin, applying to open recreational-use cannabis storefronts in towns from Fairfax to Sausalito. While we at Marin Residents for Public Health Cannabis Policies do not oppose legalization or responsible adult use, we are concerned that some of these profit-driven non-local entities have made false and misleading claims regarding cannabis. We advise residents, and parents in particular, to hold the line at delivery-only services already operating in Marin and resist proposals that invite recreational cannabis storefronts into our towns. We feel this reflects a reasonable and responsible public health position on cannabis services..
Here are a few facts that counter some of the industry’s misleading claims relating to adolescent cannabis use:
1. There is no evidence to support the claim that storefront retail will decrease youth access and use of cannabis products.
Cannabis businesses claim that youth use of cannabis will decrease if they open a storefront. This is based on cherry-picked studies with incomplete and short term data from states with legalized marijuana. It is also based on predictions that the black market will disappear, which has yet to occur anywhere and in fact is thriving in legal states.
Evidence published in well-respected scientific journals suggests that the presence of cannabis businesses is associated with an increased risk in youth use of cannabis. Healthy Kids Survey Results from legalized states around the country, including Marin County, show concerning increases in youth use in certain categories, e.g., use among increasingly younger students and increases in amount and methods of delivery e.g., daily use, vaping, and “dabbing” high potency forms of cannabis.
Additionally, two recent studies specifically address the issue of storefront retail:
California. In 2019, the RAND Corporation released a study in the online journal Addiction (by the Society for the Study of Addiction). This research found young adults (18-22) who live in neighborhoods with medical marijuana dispensaries used cannabis more frequently. The study’s lead author, a senior behavioral scientist, specifically noted the influence of storefronts on how young adults “perceive and use marijuana.”
Washington State. A 2020 study of 13- to 17-year-olds by Washington State University researchers published in the Journal of Health Communication found that the location of cannabis retailers and advertising influenced adolescents’ intentions to use. Study participants who lived within five miles of a marijuana shop were more likely to report intentions to use the drug than those who lived farther away.
2. There is evidence of similar strategies and outcomes from the cannabis industry as we have seen from the tobacco and alcohol industries.
Big tobacco has made it's move into the e-cigarette and cannabis markets and we have decades of lessons learned from the tobacco and alcohol industries to see what to expect. For example, years of studies show that the density of tobacco and alcohol retailers and proximity of retailers to schools are associated with high rates of youth use of these substances. Outcomes of youth use related to cannabis retail shops are unlikely to be any different.
California has specifically acknowledged the dangers of cannabis businesses when it gave local jurisdictions the authority to prohibit or limit cannabis retailer’s proximity to schools. It wrote into state law a setback requirement for retailers to stay a specified distance away from schools.
Tobacco companies have used flavors to draw new customers to their products by making the product experience more ‘palatable’. Cannabis has piggybacked on this trend. Retail storefronts offer the opportunity to further promote the wide range of enticing flavors and fragrances of high potency cannabis concentrates. These flavored products are especially geared towards youth with names like “Rainbow Swirl” and “Gummy Bear”.
3. Marin County conditions demand extra precautions to protect youth.
Marin County youth are already at a higher risk of early cannabis use when compared with their counterparts in the rest of California, and even the nation. A recent analysis of national, state and Marin County data from 2008-2018 examined trends in youth cannabis use and perceptions of its risks.
The report found that Marin County has experienced “an endemic problem of youth use of cannabis.”
It discovered alarming statistics on Countywide rates of youth cannabis use when compared to youth elsewhere in the state and nationally. And most concerning, the rates of use specifically in Tamalpais Union High School District exceeded these already deeply concerning County averages – with students at Tamalpais High School, the closest high school to Sausalito, reporting the highest overall rates of current cannabis use within the entire County (CHKS 2018).
The analysis revealed that “far smaller proportions of 9th and 11th graders in Marin County perceived a great level of risk from using marijuana occasionally as compared to their counterparts statewide.” A decreased perception of harm is recognized as a key factor driving youth cannabis use numbers up.
In addition to this concerning data, experiences reported by students, parents and community stakeholders offer insight into the reality of local conditions here in Marin.
Don Carney, Marin County's Youth Court Director, who has worked with thousands of young people in Marin over his decades long career here, states:
“Of course a retail cannabis storefront will increase youth access to the drug. Youth will ask friends over 21 to purchase for them or they will use fraudulent IDs to purchase for themselves. Also, today’s weed is dangerous: I have worked with eleven families who have experienced their child having a psychotic break due to dabbing high THC commercial products.”
A Tamalpais High School 11th grader says:
“In school, classmates use products from cannabis dispensaries. Many students use edibles, which are very easy to hide and look like regular candy and dab pens (THC Vapes), which have practically no smell, and sometimes even no smoke. They are much stronger than flower, and can only be bought at stores because they are complex to make. A local store will only increase the amount of these high potency products in the hands of teens.”
The personal stories of three local families who lost their teen sons to addictions that began with cannabis use are also compelling. These parents are working to prevent similar tragedies from happening to other families, as they continue to do. Our local governments should support parents' efforts to protect the best interests of their children, and not to give in to what advances the profit motives of cannabis companies.
We must acknowledge the emerging data, decades of public health knowledge and experience, and current local conditions when assessing the impact of cannabis storefronts on local youth. And this is just one area of concern. You can see more public health concerns by reading 10 Reasons Commercial Cannabis Storefronts Aren't in Marin's Best Interest.
Residents, please join us in protecting our local teens and pre-teens by getting involved in your community. Local decision-makers, please support us. Contact Marin4PublicHealth@gmail.com for more information on how you can help.