California bans cannabis dispensaries and protects children from cannabis marketing, but these statewide restrictions are not working as well as policymakers had hoped.
According to a new study, that’s in JAMA Pediatrics It assesses how these regulations for the protection of minors have held up five years after the voter legalization of cannabis.
The study looked at 700 licensed cannabis dispensaries in California and found that many retail locations have inadequate screening processes that allow minors to enter and see items that should be restricted to adults 21 and older.
“Our data shows that teenagers can potentially be exposed to cannabis marketing and products, even though California appears to have strict laws,” said the study co-author Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Fellow at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and Elizabeth Garrett Chair in Health Policy, Economics and Law at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
“As more states legalize cannabis, we need better mechanisms, including funding and authorities for random compliance checks, to make sure regulations are being followed – just like with tobacco.”
Cannabis pharmacies loosely adhere to regulations for the protection of minors
In California, pharmacies are required to screen underage customers before reaching retail areas displaying cannabis marketing and products. You do this with clearly visible signs indicating the age limit and an ID check point. The control point can be outside or inside as long as it is in front of the area where products are displayed.
Trained researchers who were near the legal age to buy cannabis – usually between 21 and 23 years old – were sent to pharmacies across California to test these screening procedures. The researchers evaluated regulations such as age limit signs, ID checks, and exposure to cannabis marketing materials.
97% of pharmacies complied with ID checks, but only 12% of pharmacies checked their IDs outside of the office and almost 68% of pharmacies did not follow the age limit signs. Most pharmacies did not ask for proof of where cannabis marketing materials and products were located until after entering.
“The low compliance with age limit signs and external ID checks makes it easier for minors to enter cannabis pharmacies,” said lead author and study director. Yuyan Shi, Associate Professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California, San Diego. “Once inside, accidentally or not, they can see a range of cannabis marketing materials and products.”
Shi and Pacula found that 35% of pharmacies had items that might appeal to teenagers and children in retail areas. Most pharmacies also had promotions, discounts for first-time purchases, and weekly or daily offers that could appeal to teenagers and children as well. Nearly 22% violate California’s ban on free sampling of take-away items and 16% violate the on-site consumption ban.
A closer focus on screening practices is needed
Compliance checks are not required for cannabis dispensaries in California. It is up to the local authorities to conduct them regularly, although many lack the resources to do so, the authors say.
“While some pharmacies follow the letter of the law when it comes to ID checks, they do not follow the spirit of the law to keep minors away from marketing and advertising cannabis products,” Pacula said.
As more states enact legal recreational cannabis use, Shi and Pacula recommend mandatory random compliance checks and financial penalties for non-compliant pharmacies.
“Tobacco sales help fund random compliance checks for retailers in this industry,” Shi said. “States that are seeking or have legalized legalization should follow a similar process of allocating tax revenue from cannabis sales to ensure compliance is monitored regularly.”
The study was supported by Grant 27IR-0014 from the Tobacco Diseases Research Program and Grant R01DA042290 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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