Health Equity in Marijuana Regulations

As Los Angeles County prepares to craft regulations for marijuana commerce, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to look at health equity – or inequity – in communities when considering prospective retailers that want to operate there.

Board of Supervisors Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. All photos by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“We have to be thoughtful and deliberate about unintended consequences in communities that are already particularly vulnerable,” said Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion. “We must create regulations that lead to responsible, conscientious businesses that contribute to the health and wellbeing of the neighborhood.” He elaborates further in a HuffPost op-ed.

The County’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) held a series of listening sessions to get public input on regulations. Its coordinator, Joseph Nicchitta, said most participants raised the same questions: “How will the County address overconcentration of cannabis retailers in one community? Will cannabis retail make existing conditions worse in neighborhoods with relatively high rates of crime, high concentrations of alcohol outlets and other negative health indicators? Will commercial cannabis increase youth consumption (of marijuana)?”

LA Cunty Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) coordinator Joseph Nicchitta and Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer

The motion sought to address those concerns, directing that when the County is weighing the issuance of licenses to prospective pot shops, it should look at whether the surrounding neighborhood already has an overconcentration of alcohol sales, lower educational attainment rates, higher crime rates, and other indicators of negative health outcomes that could be exacerbated by marijuana sales. It also called for issuing the first licenses in phases.

Supervisor Hilda Solis, who coauthored the motion, called it “a first step to examining and mitigating adverse impacts, including supporting youth development and drug prevention programs, especially in communities already affected by health disparities caused by alcohol and substance use.”

“Health equity means that everyone has access to the opportunities and the resources they need for optimal health and wellbeing,” added County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, said. “Underlying that principle, though, is the fact that if you look at health outcomes today, you see enormous differences that are based on where a person lives, works, plays and, oftentimes, the color of their skin.”

The OCM plans to present the Board with recommendations for a regulatory framework in December or January. It will incorporate public input from the listening sessions, as well as the report of the Cannabis Advisory Working Group, which is comprised of community members, business owners, advocacy groups, public health experts and cannabis industry representatives.