Dispatches from the 2019 North American Cannabis Summit


Public health officials, researchers, physicians, policy makers, and other stakeholders are gathered in Los Angeles this week for the 2019 North American Cannabis Summit, a three-day conference where they will discuss federal and local policies, public health and safety, emerging research and data, and social equity programs in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Cannabis Wire will provide coverage through Wednesday, so check back for more.

Here are snapshots from Day 1:

When it comes to cannabis employees, there’s a lack of data on workplace safety

During a session on the health and safety of cannabis workers, Marc Schenker, professor of Public Health Sciences and Medicine at UC Davis and founder of the university’s Migration and Health Research Center, indicated that while the California cannabis industry employs an estimated 200,000 full-time workers (not counting part-time employees), there are no large studies of this population. Moreover, because many of these workers are undocumented, obtaining representative health data is a challenge.

To gauge workplace safety, Schenker said, researchers infer from other agricultural data, which points to allergen, chemical, and microbiological exposure; musculoskeletal disorders like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome; and physical hazards that range from cuts and abrasions to compressed gas explosions.

Cat Packer, the executive director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation, was in the audience. “Have you identified any equipment to mitigate some of the concerns you’ve brought up?” she asked Schenker, referencing workplace hazards. In response, he listed a number of items, including n95 respirators. “But those things are often expensive,” he said, “and if you have a small producer, they might cut corners.”

Then, Schenker added: “Everyone is concerned about Big Marijuana, but, you know, they are often subject to more oversight.”  

Schenker also pointed to changes post-legalization. For instance, historically, California’s “trimmigrants” have been foreign vacationers, college students, and young working professionals. Recently, the industry has turned toward labor contractors in processing facilities, often with older female workers (a notable change, said Schenker, given that most cannabis production occurs in small, remote, rural locations in northern California, where there have also been registered cases of sexual assault and sex trafficking).

A glimpse into effects of secondhand cannabis smoke in apartment buildings

Later, Peggy Toy, who directs the Health DATA (Data. Advocacy. Training. Assistance.) program at UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research, shared preliminary findings of a citywide evaluation that aims to determine whether Los Angeles should implement a cannabis-free policy in multi-unit housing. Launched in April 2018, the study, which will conclude in June 2020, will ultimately survey 4,800 tenants and 200 landlords across 12 City Council districts. So far, 4 out of 10 owners/managers who’ve been interviewed support a policy that bans all types of smoke (cannabis and tobacco), while 2 out of 10 favor one that prohibits tobacco but not cannabis (or, at least, allows cannabis for medical reasons). Among landlords who favor a total ban, said Toy, several said that it would be difficult to selectively enforce smoking policies. Notably, 4 out of 10 landlords said they would not support any type of smoke-free policy, as it would undercut their renter pool.

Another study, sponsored by the University of Washington’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, examined the cannabis industry’s advertising violations between 2014 and 2018, as identified by civil society and authorities. A public records request to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board indicates that, overall, the most common types of violations relate to outdoor advertisements, lack of mandatory warnings, and distribution of giveaways or coupons. Violations reported by Washington residents underscored a concern with content appealing to minors or promoting cannabis’ “curative or therapeutic effects.”

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