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Alignment in local approaches to alcohol and cannabis control policy: A case study of California cities and counties

  • Matthay, Ellicott C
  • Mousli, Leyla
  • Apollonio, Dorie E
  • Schmidt, Laura A
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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BackgroundPublic health experts have urged governments around the world to regulate newly legalized cannabis as they do alcohol to effectively and efficiently protect health. However, research evaluating the alignment of alcohol and cannabis policies is sparse. We assessed similarities and differences in local alcohol and cannabis control policies across California, and characterized localities adopting distinct policy approaches.MethodsUsing standard legal epidemiologic techniques, we collected and coded local alcohol and cannabis control policies relevant to public health for 12 California counties and all incorporated cities within them (N=241). We assessed whether localities were equally stringent on alcohol and cannabis policies by comparing overall restrictiveness (summed policy scores) and 9 specific provisions that applied to both substances. We captured distinct local alcohol-cannabis policy approaches using latent class analysis, and examined this classification in relation to local demographic, socioeconomic, political, and retail market characteristics.ResultsAll 241 localities permitted alcohol sales, while 71% banned cannabis sales. Among those that did not ban cannabis sales, more stringent alcohol policy scores were associated with more stringent cannabis policy scores (linear regression coefficient: 0.16 [95% CI: 0.07, 0.25]). Local governments rarely adopted the same provisions for alcohol and cannabis (e.g., limits on hours of sale, advertising restrictions), and only two regulated the co-location of cannabis and alcohol outlets. Localities that were restrictive on alcohol yet permissive on cannabis (12%) were more urban, politically progressive, and had more low-income and racial/ethnic minority residents. Localities that were more permissive on alcohol and restrictive on cannabis (51%) were more socioeconomically advantaged.ConclusionWe found few similarities between local alcohol and cannabis control policies. California's experience suggests that, as governments around the world legalize cannabis, lessons learned from regulating alcohol are not routinely applied to cannabis, particularly in communities distinguished by high social and economic advantages.

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