Retail Cannabis Regulation in Los Angeles County

At a Glance:

Location: Los Angeles County, California

Date: 2019

Vital Condition: Basic Needs for Health and Safety

Determinants of Health: substance use, substance use

Affected Population: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, People Living in Poverty

Research Methods: Focus Groups, GIS mapping, Survey, Qualitative research, Quantitative research, Literature review

Community Types: urban

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In 2017, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors requested that the county Department of Public Health (DPH) assess the potential health equity implications of allowing licensed cannabis dispensaries to operate in unincorporated areas. DPH conducted an HIA to examine the potential health impacts of policy and regulatory decisions related to cannabis business locations and business practices, regulatory enforcement, and taxation. 

The HIA found that unlicensed dispensaries   were more likely to engage in business practices that could harm health, such as selling high-potency products and products designed to be attractive to children but lacking child-resistant packaging, and were concentrated in health-disadvantaged areas and predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Additionally, violent crimes were more prevalent in areas with more unlicensed dispensaries. The HIA also found that since the state began issuing licenses in 2018, the number of unlicensed dispensaries had decreased in cities that allow licensed dispensaries.

The HIA’s recommendations included tracking trends in cannabis-related emergency room visits by race, ethnicity, and age in comparison with alcohol and other drug-related visits, monitoring the geographic distribution and density of licensed and unlicensed dispensaries, and requiring licensed dispensaries to undergo regular health inspections.

This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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