The primary author of Washington’s marijuana law is calling for state regulators to write numerous rules to limit youth access to legal adult weed.
Alison Holcomb, drug policy director for ACLU of Washington, has joined with advocates for public health and minority communities in sending recommendations today to the state Liquor Control Board.
Charged with creating a legal adult pot system, the board issued initial draft rules last month. After today’s deadline for receiving feedback, the board expects to release proposed rules later this month.
The goal of the law, Holcomb said, is to improve on our experiences with alcohol and tobacco, not repeat them. “It was not intended to ‘mint marijuana millionaires’ who prioritize profits over public health,” she added, referring to entrepreneur Jamen Shively’s recent statements that he aims to create a national marijuana brand that makes investors rich.
Holcomb joined a group of racial and ethnic community leaders in sending one set of recommendations to the board. She also worked with substance abuse prevention and treatment professionals on a similar but separate proposals.
Holcomb and public health called for the following rules:
- Because pot in edible and liquid-infused forms can look like ordinary candy, cookies, brownies and soda, it may provide children with greater temptation and access. It should be come in packaging intended to prevent child access; that is, plain, opaque, tamper-resistant and child-proof containers.
- Packaging should not look like any commercially branded candy and not depict cartoons or other images appealing to youth.
- The state should prohibit additives to pot products intended to entice use by youth, such as menthol.
- Internet and mail order sales should be banned.
- Stores should be open fewer than 20 hours a day as proposed in initial rules.
- Stores should be required to post signs displaying a public health hotline, so consumers understand treatment for marijuana use is available.
- Messages that counter the industry’s promotional advertising should be required at stores. This should include information of keeping pot away from children and hotline number for the Washington Poison Center.
- Warning labels should be required, saying the product “may be habit forming” and listing potential side effects of use. Labels should also say “Not FDA Approved” and include a Department of Health help-line number and poison center number.
- Retailers should provide an “Information for the Consumer” notice with each purchase, to include an explanation of the dose amount, indicators of dependence, examples of physical and health risks, and warnings for pregnant or breast feeding women.
- Advertising should be restricted, similarly to rules the state uses for the liquor industry. That means, no advertising in school media; restricting promotion through contests, competitive events and coupons; no sound trucks; regulating outdoor ads; and regulating industry sponsorship of public and civic events.
- The board should also revise the logo it proposed for product labels, which features a silhouette of the state with a pot leaf in the center. That image could be viewed as the state proudly promoting marijuana, according to Holcomb and others. Instead the board should consider using the plain state logo.
In its recommendations to the Liquor Control Board, a coalition of minority leaders noted that arrests and incarceration for marijuana possession have disproportionately impacted minorities, particularly African-Americans.
“We don’t want to see our young people getting criminal records for marijuana use, but we also don’t want to see them increasing their marijuana use,” said James Wilburn, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, in a statement by the coalition.
Some of group’s recommendations mirror those by public health advocates, such as restrictions on advertising. Other proposals include:
- Urge the Legislature to require the largely unregulated medical marijuana system – which allows minors to be patients – to be meet the same rules as the recreational system; or, at least be subject to similar but separate rules.
- Counter the implied message to youth that it’s now okay to use pot. For example, the state should require prevention posters by checkout counters at retail pot stores.
- Stores shouldn’t be concentrated in minority communities or neighborhoods. The distribution of stores should mirror the distribution in more affluent, predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods.
- Make informational materials about the law available in the same languages the Secretary of State provides in voter materials, and add a translating feature to the board’s web pages concerning the marijuana law.
Sharon Foster, chair of the Liquor Control Board, said she personally favors some of recommendations.
“If we see a marijuana bar that looks like a Snickers we’re going to find some way to not let that happen,” Foster said, stressing that she was speaking for herself and not the three-member board.
She also said stores shouldn’t be open 20 hours a day and marijuana advertising should come under the same regulations as alcohol. “We’ll make sure there’s nothing that says this is going to cure you or make you more sexually attractive, or things we don’t allow with liquor.”
As for medical marijuana, Foster said the state’s new recreational market probably won’t work if the medical system continues to be largely unregulated and lightly taxed. “That doesn’t mean it can’t exist,” she said of the medical system. “I think there has to be tweaks. How many, I don’t know.”