During next Tuesday’s Long Beach City Council meeting, Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price is hoping to bring a broad discussion on marijuana safety to the council chamber before the first medical marijuana dispensaries open for business in the city, again.
The item, sponsored by Vice Mayor Rex Richardson and Council Members Lena Gonzalez and Al Austin, seeks to have the city’s health department lead an outreach effort to educate city youth on the consequences of marijuana use, drivers on the risks of marijuana-impaired driving and the legal ramifications for customers who resell products purchased at dispensaries to underage persons.
Some of the things that the agenda item calls for were included in the measure voted into law in November, including signs being posted in storefronts warning of the dangers of driving while impaired, noting that the business is licensed to operate within the city and warn of the improper sale of medical marijuana. Under Measure MM, those caught selling illegally would have their memberships terminated.
The city’s voters passed MM in the November election, a move that stripped the city of its ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, and California voters as a whole voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. While the city has not weighed in on whether it will permit the sale of recreational cannabis in Long Beach, it could soon have medical dispensaries opening up across the city.
Price, who was the most vocal critic of allowing dispensaries to re-open inside the city, repeatedly argued that the city would not see a benefit from the industry returning to Long Beach. An Orange County deputy district attorney, Price also contended that the strain placed on public safety agencies could not be remedied with the city’s current funding ability.
In a statement, Price said she fully accepted the results of the election in November but wanted to provide education for the city’s youth and those who might patron the soon-to-open shops.
“Toward that end, I want to work with our schools, marijuana businesses, and city departments to develop educational outreach materials and programs which ensure that consumers are mindful of some of the risks associated with youth (adolescent) marijuana use and the safety risks of drug-impaired driving,” Price said.
The two laws that were voted into effect allow for adult use of marijuana, meaning that patients who wish to purchase from a medical marijuana dispensary would not only have to have a prescription from a doctor, but also be at least 21 years of age.
To what degree marijuana use by minors would be affected by dispensaries reopening in the city would be speculation at this point, Price said. She noted that officials in other municipalities and states like Colorado, which has both medical and recreational marijuana sales active, have observed increases in youth usage. She's concerned about the long-term effects marijuana can have on developing brains and the lack of understanding of how strong newer strains of cannabis can be.
“Based on the research that I’ve done and the officials I’ve talked to, they’ve seen an increase in use at the high school level and it’s very similar to where we were with alcohol thirty years ago or so,” Price said. “The novelty of it, and the more available access causes it to show up more in high schools.”
A graph showing high school usage rates in Colorado according to the University of Colorado's annual public health survey in 2015.
A survey put out last year by the University of Colorado Anschutz Community Epidemiology & Program Evaluation Group, measuring health habits among teens in the state, showed that four out of five Colorado high school students had not used marijuana in the past 30 days, a mark that had remained unchanged since 2013.
The Colorado survey is reflective of larger national polls like the one completed by the National Institute of Drug Abuse for 2016 which showed that 44 percent of 12th grade students had tried marijuana in their lifetimes, but only six percent of those 12th graders used it daily.
What the Colorado survey did show was a spike in the usage of electronic cigarettes, which outpaced traditional cigarette usage (8.6 percent) by nearly 18 percent.
Colorado has had a variation of medical marijuana access for patients since the early 2000s and legalized recreational marijuana sales in 2012. It’s longer history with sales of both medicinal and recreational cannabis have made it a sort of flag bearer for policy makers across the country, taking that state’s early results to try and craft laws suitable for local implementation.
Price’s agenda item referenced the Centennial State multiple times, pointing to increases in the number of the state’s drivers who had been stopped for marijuana-related DUIs—the Denver Post reported in 2016 the figure actually declined in 2015—and some dispensaries’ choice to utilize educational videos as a gatekeeper to play free video games while patrons are inside the storefronts.
The video games implemented in nearly a dozen Colorado dispensaries are just part of a larger web of media that the state’s department of transportation has utilized to warn against the dangers of driving high. A catalogue of commercials produced by the DOT repeatedly warn against driving while high, something that’s been attributed to the drop in DUI arrests in the state.
Price said she wants Long Beach to take a similar approach, possibly designing and executing its own multi-faceted campaign to inform and educate patrons and the community at large. That could include, but is not limited to, the creation and dissemination of pamphlets, education videos or outreach programs.
While the cost of creating this campaign is still to be determined, she said she’s hopeful that the city would be able to apply for grants or use one-time funds for education to help get this idea off the ground.
Or, like in the case of marijuana business owners in Colorado, shop owners could participate with their own funding and launch their own campaigns to help educate about safe dosing and operation of vehicles.
Tuesday’s discussion, Price said, is about starting to talk about how best to approach the issue from multiple angles to ensure that everyone is properly informed.
“They wish they would’ve been more proactive. They were very reactive and it took them a while to come to the table together,” Price said about officials in Colorado. “I’m trying to get us to be more proactive so we can include some of the best practices that others have used but we can also encourage dialogue that forces us to think outside the box on education and outreach.”
The Long Beach City Council meets at 333 West Ocean Boulevard. The meeting is scheduled to being at 5:00PM.