Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s Vague Response to UCSF Public Health Analysis of Marijuana Legalization Initiatives

The Sacramento Bee posted a video of its February 11, 2016 meeting with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom on his support for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act marijuana legalization initiative.

In that interview Newsom dismissed the public health analysis of the two leading marijuana legalization initiatives I released  with Dr. Stanton Glantz the week before, on February 2, 2016. Here is a link to the UCSF press release that provides an excellent summary of the key points of the analysis.

Below I have responded to the Gavin Newsom interview in the following blog post.

In the interview Newsom states:

“Regulation is not a one day event on an election day in November. It is a dynamic process that unfolds over many years”

In response to that comment, the Bee’s Editorial board inquired:

“If you know that they [corporate players] are coming, why not put the kybosh on it now?”

Newsom’s response was vague.

“We can only do so much and what we want is flexibility.”

Newsom continued to denounce our work and challenged our credibility as public health authorities in tobacco control, arguing that our analysis contained several “profound mistakes.” Newsom recommended that the media and the public read the seven page response to the analysis that we were sent on the Saturday before the analysis was to be released to the public.

These criticisms were based on a draft copy of the report that I sent for feedback to authors of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act initiative on January 6, three weeks prior to publication of the final report.

Stanton Glantz and I spent the weekend reviewing the critique and, to be sure that we carefully addressed every detail, prepared a comprehensive response to the law firm of Olson, Hagel, and Fishburn, which represents the advocates for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act initiative.  As part of this effort, we asked several lawyers who are experts in tobacco and alcohol legalese to review our responses and ensure that we were not misunderstanding the initiative or its provisions. Ultimately, we changed a few words and minor technicalities in the final report, but the overall conclusions of the analysis remained the same.

Bottom line is that these initiatives prioritize creating a new market and new industry, that could easily and rapidly resemble the tobacco industry, over protecting public health.

In the interview Newsom stated that California does not want to be overly prescriptive to avoid the problems that Colorado, Washington, and Oregon (which has not implemented its regulations or opened its market yet) are facing without describing what those problems are or what the AUMA initiative would do to avoid these problems. After saying that, he went on to state:

“We have some very prescriptive provisions at least for the first five years. And the idea behind that is to get smaller players a head start so that they have the ability to develop their businesses…at least we would have five years. The critique I think that it should have been 20 years, which is equally arbitrary, 20, 5, 10 years and whatever. But we feel five years would give us time to develop even stronger parameters.”

Note the words “develop their businesses” while the words “protecting public health” are absent.

The five year provision that Newsom is referring to is one that would prevent the Department of Consumer Affairs from issuing large-scale cultivation licenses for the first five years of the legal marijuana market. In our analysis, we do not include a specific recommendation on how many years this provision should have been, but rather state that this provision will likely do little to prevent corporate capture of the market.

Rather, we stress the importance of creating simultaneously with legalization a comprehensive marijuana prevention and control program modeled on the California Tobacco Control Program as an important safeguard to protect the public from the predatory marketing and lobbying practices of the forthcoming marijuana industry.

Newsom also argued that the initiative contained very prescriptive provisions regarding marketing, packaging, and “youth” prevention and family education programs for which the authors of AUMA did not get credit.

We considered that these provisions were included in the initiative.

In fact, our analysis of these provisions was far more nuanced than Newsom credited. Using evidence-based research from tobacco and alcohol control, we concluded that these provisions will likely have little to no effect on preventing youth initiation, protecting the general public, and containing the lobbying and economic power of the emerging marijuana industry.

One of the most ironic comments Newsom made at the end of the interview was:

“[Marijuana] is a vice but it’s also medicinal, and that’s what distinguishes it from tobacco…That said this is a terrible drug for our kids.”

Why is protecting the general public not an important priority?

Legalization advocates, politicians, and California voters need to consider why Newsom and the authors of the AUMA initiative are so quick to legalize marijuana, given that in its current form this initiative fails to include several lessons from tobacco and alcohol control to proactively create a legal and social environment that would protect, rather than harm, public health. In particular, the initiative:

  • Fails to include a marijuana prevention and control program modeled on the California Tobacco Control Program;
  • Several marijuana industry representatives will sit on marijuana advisory boards and guide regulations and implementation of the new laws;
  • Funding for marijuana research will end ten years after marijuana is legalized and marijuana-related disease research is not a priority; and
  • Marketing and advertising restrictions are weak and based on ineffective alcohol regulations that have not prevented alcohol initiation in youth and overconsumption in the general population.

California voters should consider that there are likely underlying political and economic motives behind the move to quickly legalize marijuana in California in November 2016.

The more appropriate thing to do would be for the authors of the AUMA initiative, among others involved in legalizing retail marijuana, to withdraw and resubmit new initiatives that would truly prioritize public health over creating a new business. If this faction refuses to do this, then California voters should vote against any legalization initiative that does not contain the recommendations in our public health analysis (starting on page 38) as a clear message that California voters want marijuana legalization done right, through a pro-public health framework.


One thought on “Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s Vague Response to UCSF Public Health Analysis of Marijuana Legalization Initiatives

  1. What the State of California should do is fund (1) pulmonary lavage studies on marijuana smokers and base its public education studies on objective findings of the presence of lung damage, which almost certainly occur with chronic inhalation. (2) Conduct studies of the secondhand smoke emissions from marijuana joints. In my professional opinion, this will demonstrate the health impact of smoking and secondhand smoking of cannabis products on its users and innocent bystanders. Burning of any biomass at red heat will lead to emissions of fine particle pollution, volatile organic compounds, and acid gases. It is just dumb beyond belief to legalize marijuana without a public information campaign based on science. This is what California did with tobacco. To do less than that with marijuana is a travesty.

    Liked by 1 person

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