Cannabis Legalization in State Legislatures: Public Health Opportunity and Risk
80 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2019
Date Written: October 3, 2019
Cannabis is widely used in the U.S. and internationally despite its illicit status, but that illicit status is changing. In the U.S., 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis, and 11 states and D.C. have legalized adult use cannabis. A majority of state medical cannabis laws and all but two state adult use laws are the result of citizen ballot initiatives, but state legislatures are beginning to seriously consider adult use legislation. From a public health perspective, cannabis legalization presents a mix of potential risks and benefits, but a legislative approach offers an opportunity to improve on existing legalization models passed using the initiative process that strongly favor business interests over public health. To assess whether state legislatures are acting on this opportunity, this article examines provisions of proposed adult use cannabis legalization bills active in state legislatures as of February 2019 to evaluate the inclusion of key public health best practices based on successful tobacco and alcohol control public health policy frameworks. Given public support for legalization, further adoption of state adult use cannabis laws is likely, but legalization should not be viewed as a binary choice between total prohibition and laissez faire commercialization. The extent to which adult use cannabis laws incorporate or reject public health best practices will strongly affect their impact, and health advocates should work to influence the construction of such laws to prioritize public health and learn from past successes and failures in regulating other substances.
Keywords: cannabis, marijuana, legalization, public health, public health law, health law
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