Legal Marijuana: Lessons from Alcohol and Tobacco

lessons from alcohol and tobaccoUnited States policymakers are currently considering ways to ease prohibitions on marijuana, and the public health approaches that were used to regulate alcohol and tobacco may provide some valuable lessons.[1]

The recent ballot initiatives that legalized marijuana for recreation use in Colorado and Washington are unprecedented.1 However, this move raises questions about how to best allow for production, sales, and use of marijuana while also reducing any social ills.1

A new study published by the American Journal of Public Health outlines how policymakers can use the lessons from alcohol and tobacco to guide them through the process of legalizing marijuana.1 The issues outlined in the study are how to reduce youth access to marijuana, how to minimize drugged driving, how to curb dependence and addiction, how to restrict contaminants in marijuana products, and how to discourage the dual use of marijuana and alcohol in public settings.1

“The lessons from the many decades of regulating alcohol and tobacco should offer some guidance to policymakers who are contemplating alternatives to marijuana prohibition and are interested in taking a public health approach,” said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and a co-author of the study. “Our goal here is to help policymakers understand the decisions they face, rather than debate whether legalization is good or bad.”1

The study details many of the questions policymakers will confront when considering less-restrictive marijuana laws.1 “Should vertical integration be allowed, or should there be separate licenses for growing, processing, and selling marijuana? What rules are needed to make sure a marijuana product is safe? Should marijuana be sold in convenience stores or only in specialized venues? Should taxes be assessed per unit of weight, as a percent of the price, or on some other basis, such as the amount of psychoactive ingredients in marijuana?”1

“Based on the national experience with alcohol and tobacco, it seems prudent from a public health perspective to open up the marijuana market slowly, with tight controls to test the waters and prevent commercialization too soon while still making it available to responsible adults,” said Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and a co-author of the paper. “Of course, perspectives other than public health objectives might motivate policymakers to adopt different or fewer regulations. These are simply lessons learned from a public health perspective.”1

The study also discusses ways that are used to control alcohol and tobacco that may also be appropriate for marijuana, such as keeping prices artificially high to curb use, adopting a state-run monopoly on sales and distribution, limiting the types of products sold, restricting marketing efforts, and restricting consumption in public spaces.1 There are lessons from alcohol and tobacco to be taken into consideration.

[1] RAND Corporation. (2014, April 21). Regulating legal marijuana could be guided by lessons from alcohol, tobacco, study says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140421112607.htm

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