Cannabis regulatory policy to protect vulnerable populations
Background/Objectives: Ten states and the District of Colombia have passed recreational cannabis laws in the USA, and more may join them in the near future. However, policy nuances complicate the cannabis landscape: every state has different laws regarding use, possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis. This heterogeneity may differentially influence perceptions of risk and attitudes towards cannabis. Specifically, cannabis is the most highly abused substance among adolescents, and the risks for that group remain unclear. This fast-moving social policy change has increased needs for high-quality evidence to inform policy, particularly related to risks of illegal youth use. Our goal is to help develop cannabis control policies that coordinate with other existing policies, to protect youth.
Methods: We reviewed several distinct literatures relevant to the policy area. First, we examined papers that studied the association between marijuana laws on youth use. Second, we reviewed studies that cover the prevalence, consequences, and correlates youth substance use. Finally, we examined existing prevention policies and programs. Despite no modern examples of cannabis regulation, lessons can be learned from alcohol and tobacco literature.
Results: Prior research and policy experience indicate that the social environment is the most important determinant of the initial stages of substance initiation. Schools, community systems, and families should apply various approaches to prevent youth initiation. At the aggregate level, comprehensive policies that encourage substance use prevention and cessation, include a mixture of taxation, pricing, retail restrictions, laws directed specifically to youth, and smoke/alcohol free environments.
Conclusion: We are currently going through a social experiment since there are no modern examples of cannabis regulation. We present an overall prevention model; which helps to understand reasons for cannabis youth uptake, and factors determining policy. Second, we provide cannabis regulatory suggestions based on prior youth prevention programs.