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    Underage Marijuana Use and Community Advocacy

    As more states continuing to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, let’s work to avoid past mistakes from the commercialization of nicotine and alcohol products that have harmed countless young people. Without proper protections, commercialization – the production, sales, marketing and business of marijuana – normalizes use. It increases exposure and access and emboldens the industry to target teens and young adults, risking their health and increasing their chances of addiction.

    Several evidence-based requirements can protect youth within marijuana laws. Policymakers can enact strong laws and regulations to protect youth from commercialization, but pressure from parents, caregivers and the public at large is needed to counteract commercialization efforts from companies with deep pockets.

    One example of what communities are up against is the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation. The coalition’s goal is to drive policies shaping federal regulation and weigh in on youth prevention, impaired driving, medical benefits, etc. However, this group is comprised primarily of alcohol and tobacco companies, well known for targeting youth to gain lifetime consumers.

    We want to help parents understand the potential risk of marijuana commercialization to youth. Below is guidance on what you can do to ensure that any laws that pass include adequate protections for your children.

    Our Advocacy Toolkit explains what advocacy is and provides tips and tactics for how to advocate on the issue of substance use. Here are some tips and concrete actions parents and other community members can take to prevent underage marijuana use.

    1. Identify an action

    Understand where your state or community is in terms of legalizing marijuana for adult nonmedical use. If your state is debating whether to legalize or has recently legalized, you’ll want to advocate for youth protection provisions to be included in any new legislation. In many cases, the youth protection provisions may be more specifically defined in the regulation, rather than the law. It usually takes several months after the law is enacted for the agency to put out regulations that offer more specifics about how the law is to be enacted, but there will be an opportunity for public comment on any proposed regulations.

    Pay close attention to announcements about new regulations and take advantage of public comment opportunities to make your voice heard! You can likely find announcements about proposed regulations on the website of the agency that regulates cannabis in your state.

    If your state or community has already legalized marijuana and issued regulations, learn whether your state’s laws or regulations include youth protection provisions. While it is important to have strong protections on the books, they are largely meaningless if not well enforced. It is important to flag violations of existing requirements/protections and advocate for stronger enforcement if needed.

    Here are some examples of the various youth protection provisions you’ll want to be sure are included in your state’s marijuana law.

    • Prohibit products that are especially attractive to minors, including products with appealing flavors and non-smoke products such as vapes and edibles.
    • Prohibit products, packaging and labeling that mimic the branding, appearance or packaging of products sold by established candy or other commercial food companies.
    • Require child-resistant, resealable and single-serving packaging with clear warning signs regarding the presence of THC and risks associated with use.
    • Prohibit operation of businesses, possession/use and restrict ads within a given distance of where minors can be expected to gather (e.g., schools, parks and playgrounds, youth centers, libraries)
    • Prohibit advertisements that target or appeal to minors and limit exposure of ads likely to be seen by minors, including on billboards and outdoor signs, online, TV, radio and print.
    • Prohibit retailers from offering promotions and coupons for discounted products and selling branded clothing or other merchandise.
    • Prohibit home delivery services.
    • Prohibit sale and distribution to minors and require individuals to show valid ID at time of purchase.
    • Limit the number of retail businesses in relation to population density, in relation to each other, or in a given state/locality.
    • Direct tax revenue and fees from sales, as well as funds collected through penalties, toward substance use prevention programs
    • Require the implementation of prevention initiatives and education resources and campaigns
    • Require regular reporting/monitoring/evaluation of the impacts of legalization on youth (e.g., health, academic, justice involvement)

    2. Identify a tactic

    There are many different ways that you can advocate, from using social media to attending a meeting with a lawmaker. You can post on social media, write a letter or op-ed to your local newspaper, send a letter, email or call a policymaker. You can also attend a town hall meeting or an individual meeting with a lawmaker or staff. These meetings offer great opportunities for individual community members to voice their opinions and concerns, and local government officials are frequently interested in learning more from members of the community who are well informed about the research and relevant issues. Our Advocacy Toolkit includes quick tips for each tactic.

    3. Develop relationships and offer yourself as a resource

    If meeting with a policymaker, identify any relationships or connections you may have with your lawmakers and use those connections to set up an introductory meeting with the lawmaker or their staff. Staffers serve as channels to the policymakers and are critical to getting work done and persuading legislators on important issues.

    Since policymakers can’t be experts in every policy area, it is important to avail yourself as a resource by sharing information, data and resources on marijuana commercialization and the importance of protecting youth. In your meeting, keep your remarks short, clear and respectful. Follow through on any requests for additional information and follow up to show persistence, convey your passion and build the relationship further.

    4. Build your argument with data and a personal story

    The recipe for changing policy is data plus stories. Data includes statistics, research studies and evidence-based recommendations. You can find information and resources on our marijuana webpage. If possible, use statistics that are specific to your state and/or community and provide information about the impact of these protections on your state or community. You can find statistics on youth marijuana use from your local or state health department as well as national surveys such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) or the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), each of which offers state-level data.

    While data is essential, it’s the individual stories that bring an issue to life and change hearts and minds. If you have a personal experience with a child or other family member who has been harmed by marijuana, the commercialization of an addictive substance, or have been otherwise affected by addiction and you are comfortable and willing to share, your story can help make a difference. Learn more about tips for sharing your story.

    5. Mobilize others

    Engage others in your community who care about this issue. There is strength in numbers and the more that policymakers hear from you and your fellow constituents about a problem, the more likely they are to make that issue a priority. For an issue like this, the goal to protect young people from marijuana exposure and use is not especially controversial and there will be many parents who would be likely to appreciate a forum in which to voice their concerns and promote sensible measures. Find and mobilize experts in your community who can lend their knowledge and expertise about the issue to join your effort. These can be members of your local drug prevention coalition or task force on alcohol and drugs, a school mental health counselor, a lawyer with experience in government or policymaking, or a local pediatrician. The more the advocacy efforts are guided by facts and conducted professionally, the more persuasive they will be to lawmakers in your community.