Shouldn’t Cannabis Legalization Include Public Health Policy?

It has been more than 25 years since the push to legalize medical cannabis began in earnest. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the push has been quite successful. Both medical and recreational cannabis are now allowed in dozens of states. What is noticeably missing is a comprehensive public health policy. Does that make sense?

It doesn’t according to Psychology Today contributor and addiction psychiatrist Timmen L. Cermak, MD. Cermak has seen the effects of cannabis legalization in California first-hand. He believes public health policy continues to lag behind regulatory efforts in state after state. He also believes he knows why.

Five Things In Play

Cermak believes there are five things in play. The first is the effort to control the legal market. Without a legal market tightly controlled by rules and regulations, a public health policy has no point or purpose. The problem is that many states cannot seem to get their programs under control.

California is the poster child for a legal market that continues to be outplayed by its black market counterpart. No matter what California lawmakers and regulators try, they cannot seem to elevate the legal market and diminish the black market. They are so obsessed with doing so that they don’t have time for public health policy.

Here are the other four things on Cermak’s list:

  • Advocacy Focus – Cannabis advocates used the medical angle to get a proverbial foot in the door. Once that door was opened, they turn their attention to recreational cannabis. Their efforts continue to focus on the prospect of providing unfettered access to marijuana nationwide.
  • Industry Focus – Of course, the industry’s main focus is profit. Public health policy is of no concern as long as revenues keep increasing and margins expand.
  • Enforcement Efforts – States continue to focus on enforcement, especially where minors are concerned. This seems to be a continuation of anti-cannabis policies but to a lesser degree. Until that changes, public health policy sits on the back burner.
  • Consumer Ignorance – Finally, Cermak cites consumer ignorance about the science of cannabis and THC. Their lack of knowledge leads to a lack of interest in public health issues. And where there is no consumer interest, lawmakers feel no need to rush things.

Cermak offers readers a lot to think about. Whether or not all his arguments are on point is a matter of debate. But he is correct about one thing: there hasn’t been a lot of attention given to public health policy. We now have 38 states with medical cannabis programs and 18 that allow recreational marijuana. But anything even slightly resembling a legitimate public health policy is nowhere to be found.

What Would It Even Look Like?

Something else to consider is the possibility that a public health possibility doesn’t exist because no one knows where to start. What would a comprehensive policy even look like? And how would such a policy affect the industry, the medical cannabis community, and consumers themselves?

When a customer walks into a dispensary like Beehive Farmacy, public health policy is the last thing on his mind. He just wants to get his medical cannabis products and be on his way. Likewise for the pharmacy. Pharmacy owners are focused on running a successful business. That’s what matters to them.

Cermak could be absolutely right in his assessment. He could also be totally wrong. A more important question is whether we actually need a public health policy at all. Do we have one for alcohol? If we do, I am not aware of it. That is exactly the point.

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