Pubdate: Tue, 02 Feb 2016
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Christopher Cadelago


Report Out of UCSF Institute Warns About Health Risks, Industry Power

Researchers Wanted Measures Modeled After Tobacco Control Program

Backers of Main Initiative Say Report Is Flawed and Measure Has Safeguards

A ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana will likely 
launch a new profit-driven industry similar to Big Tobacco that could 
impede public health efforts, according to researchers at the 
University of California, San Francisco.

The 66-page analysis, released Tuesday, is the first in-depth look at 
the state's main effort to legalize recreational marijuana this year.

Researchers said they began with the premise that legalizing 
marijuana makes sense because its prohibition has put too many people 
behind bars and cost taxpayers too much money. But they concluded the 
two initiatives they examined would replace a crime problem with a 
public health issue.

The authors, Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz, of the UCSF Center for 
Tobacco Control Research and Education and Philip R. Lee Institute 
for Health Policy, said the one measure most likely to qualify for 
the ballot establishes a regulatory system similar to the one used 
for alcohol. They said it would have been better to pattern the 
guidelines after the state's Tobacco Control Program, which they 
credited with reducing the health effects and costs of tobacco.

"Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without 
a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful 
marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to 
manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to 
reduce use and profits," the report states.

In an interview, Glantz said treating marijuana like cigarettes could 
drive down its popularity. "The goal (should be) to legalize it so 
that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants."

He worries that a new marijuana industry would spend large sums of 
money to curry favor with lawmakers.

"I think a corporate takeover of the market ... is very, very hard to 
stop," he said, adding. "They are already a potent lobbyist in California."

A spokesman for the legalization campaign noted the report was 
written by experts on tobacco, not marijuana, and said it makes broad 
assumptions unsupported by past research into the issue. The measure 
is drafted in a way that takes public health into account, Jason Kinney said.

"This report inexplicably chooses to ignore the extensive 
public-health protections and mandate included in our measure  as 
well as the child safeguards, the small business and anti-monopoly 
provisions and the unprecedented investments in youth prevention, 
education and treatment," Kinney said.

"By demanding that tobacco be treated exactly like marijuana, they're 
making a false comparison," he added. ... They've done the public a 
disservice by disseminating misleading information under academia's 
masthead. Everyone's entitled to their own opinions, but not their 
own facts  and this issue is too important to be approached without 
basic fact-checking or peer review."

The leading measure seeks to legitimize possession of one ounce of 
marijuana and cultivation of six marijuana plants for adults 21 and 
over. One of the proponents, Donald Lyman, a retired physician, 
helped write the California Medical Association's 2011 policy calling 
for the legalization of marijuana.

The doctors' lobby formally endorsed the main legalization measure on 
Monday, characterizing it as a "comprehensive and thoughtfully 
constructed measure." For years, some doctors have complained they 
have become gatekeepers for healthy people seeking weed 
recommendations via a flawed medical marijuana system.

Legalization supporters had already begun pushing back against claims 
they aren't doing enough to protect potential adverse public health risks.

Their measure requires independent testing of commercial marijuana 
with licensing and and supervision handled by the Department of 
Public Health. Packaging and labels cannot be "attractive" to 
children, the measure states, and must have warnings about the 
possible harm to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Among the proposal's financial supporters is billionaire venture 
capitalist Sean Parker, former president of Facebook who co-founded 
the file-sharing service Napster. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, another 
well-known backer, preceded the campaign by forming a panel of 
experts that recommended the best approaches to legalization in a 
blue ribbon report. The commission urged caution, stating marijuana 
"should not be California's next Gold Rush."

The measure includes anti-monopoly language and prohibits large-scale 
licenses in the first five years.

Barry, who also served on Newsom's panel, said five years is not enough time.

"I am thinking more in 20 years what the industry will evolve into, 
not five years," Barry said. "And that's something we should be doing 
with the regulations."

She said the initiative proponents did not fully adhere to the 
outside recommendations. Specifically, Barry said she previously 
stressed the need for a marijuana prevention and control program 
aimed at the general population. She wants continuous funding 
earmarked for research into marijuana-related diseases.

Barry said the marijuana advisory board set up by the measure would 
be dominated by people with an economic stake in the industry, rather 
than those with public health interests. She objects to a provision 
giving local governments the authority to permit indoor use in 
licensed marijuana facilities.

However, Barry did credit the authors for largely prohibiting 
marijuana in smoke-free environments. Cities and counties would be 
free to ban recreational marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions 
with local voter approval.

Newsom and other leaders of the commission said in a prepared 
statement that while a ballot measure needs to provide a strong 
framework for regulation, "it must also preserve some flexibility in 
order to evolve those regulations over time."

Abdi Soltani, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California 
and a member of the Newsom commission's steering committee, said he 
agrees with some of the concerns raised in the report but ultimately 
believes the initiative protects the public.

"My middle school child will not walk into a corner store where 
tobacco and alcohol are marketed and see marijuana for sale," Soltani said.
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