If the State Ever OKs Recreational Pot, It Has a Blue Ribbon Report to Guide It

Thursday, July 23, 2015
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

For a 93-page report (pdf) ostensibly dedicated to helping adult Californians have a good time getting high, it expends a lot of effort bumming readers out with warnings about illegal growers, false taxation-windfall hopes and the danger of getting too high.

A Blue Ribbon Commission, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, emphasized in the report’s introduction that it wasn’t making specific recommendations, but only offering guidelines and policy insights to shape the debate as multiple legislative initiatives advance.

Then Newsom and his co-authors—fellow steering committee members, Stanford University Professor Keith Humphreys and ACLU of Northern California Executive Director Abdi Soltani—fess up in the section entitled “Commission Recommendations.” They disavow any “overly specific or prescriptive recommendations” but do have 50 of the less specific/prescriptive variety to pitch.

The report’s executive summary underlines and italicizes the certainty that the new industry will have to be tightly controlled and slowly rolled out with “sustained attention” over “many years.”

The federal government says that California’s implementation of medical marijuana was too Wild West and uses that as an argument to aggressively enforce U.S. laws against pot possession, cultivation and sale that conflict with state and local laws.

The list of recommendations leads off with protection for kids from pot, or at least those who aren’t already smoking. It’s estimated that around 36% of high school seniors and 12% of eighth-graders already get high. So far, concerns about teen smoking don’t extend to e-cigarettes (vaping), which state lawmakers have declined to regulate under pressure from Big Tobacco.

The report warns that policymakers should anticipate a significant confluence between vaping and marijuana but doesn’t link it to kids. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reports (pdf) that more 8th-graders and 10th-graders vaped than smoked tobacco for the first time in 2014. In fact, the number was double. Seventeen percent of seniors graduated with a vaping habit, compared to 14% with a conventional tobacco addiction.  

Unable to stand up to Big Tobacco over vaping, the nicotine delivery system it’s been looking for a couple of generations, the state is now encouraged by the report to thwart any attempts at monopolization of the marijuana industry by a few giant companies.      

“It is appropriate and probably wise for the state of California to adopt a path that limits the size and power—both economic and political—of any one entity in the marijuana industry,” the report says. How do we know this?

“The experience of tobacco and alcohol control shows that large corporations with resources for political influence (legislative lobbying, campaign contributions, regulatory interference) and marketing muscle will promote widespread and heavy use to increase sales and profits. Legislative behavior in this context is often incongruent with public health goals.”

It’s the way we roll. Nevertheless, “the goal should be to prevent the growth of a large, corporate marijuana industry dominated by a small number of players, as we see with Big Tobacco or the alcohol industry,” the report says.  

The authors also recognized that, left to their own devices, drug users in general will tend to use more drugs than society deems suitable. They suggest that outcome be discouraged by not “lowering the price of marijuana for recreational users, creating and promoting the largest industry possible or raising the maximum amount of tax revenue.”

The report comments on a wide range of issues. For instance: drugged drivers should be stopped and tested; weed sold in the market should also be tested and labeled based on a “seed-to-sale tracking system”; youths should have an alternative to arrest and jail when caught; lots of data should be collected for, uh, research purposes; revenues should be targeted back at cannabis-related stuff (and presumably not diverted to the general fund when budget deficits arise); and advertising and marketing need some limits.  

But the bottom line is the authors want the state to pursue a highly-regulated marketplace built to reduce, if not eliminate, the competing illegal pot industry without actually trying too hard to produce and deliver its own product. Take a hit, and you can almost picture it. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Report: Pot Legalization in California Presents Trade-Offs (by Lisa Leff, Associated Press)

Pot Study in California Covers Tax, Stoned Drivers, Big Tobacco (by Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle)

Is California Marijuana Legalization One Step Closer to Reality? (by Philip Ross, News Mic)

Tobacco Lobby Smokes the Opposition in State Legislature (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Pathways Report Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California (Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy) (pdf)

Leave a comment