EXCLUSIVE: Cannabis And Public Policy, How To Achieve Measurable Outcomes

EXCLUSIVE: Cannabis And Public Policy, How To Achieve Measurable Outcomes

Transportation, sanitation and housing comprise some of the modalities of public policy. They’re planned and designed based on statistical benchmarks, socioeconomic contexts and indicators for monitoring and evaluation that allow public entities to achieve certain goals, create markets and understand how to improve regulations for the benefit of the people.

But what about cannabis? Is cannabis a public policy issue?

Cannabis Public Policy

Should cannabis companies and governments look closer at their state’s cannabis policy? If so, who are the key partners in drafting regulations that contribute to creating state cannabis industries that are diverse and competitive? Mackenzie Slade, MPH, director of Cannabis Public Policy Consulting (CPPC), says there are at least two main reasons why cannabis is a problem of public policy.

“You can view cannabis as an agricultural commodity, and agriculture is a highly regulated industry. At the same time, there is a question about public goods. Cannabis is an issue of public health because there are several cannabis-related harms,” Slade said. “The best way to prevent or mitigate a lot of these harms is through public policy.”

CPPC is a research firm that analyzes novel data to enable decision-making on cannabis policy. “We are the data to implement practice here. We look at cannabis demand primarily as an outcome of consumption behavior, whereas many other experts see cannabis as an agricultural commodity. We can identify and quantify behaviors that drive cannabis demand and specific patterns of consumption and that’s a real game changer for making policy decisions,” Slade told Benzinga.

She stressed that a policy angle can contribute to systematizing market research, sizing, consumption and potential outcomes of cannabis legalization at the state level. 

Tons Of Data And How To Use It

CPPC runs a nationwide survey and analyzes data from all state markets. It recently published its Fall 2022 Cannabis Legalization & Public Health Outcomes Report, one of its largest to date.

“The findings demonstrated that greater risks of cannabis-related harms were associated with states where cannabis is illicit compared to states where cannabis is regulated,” stated CPPC in a press release.

“It’s effectively one of the first studies that empirically demonstrate that cannabis legalization is not associated or linked with worse public health outcomes. The study is not causation. We’re not saying ‘cannabis legalization causes anything’ or ‘not legalizing causes anything.’ What we found is that it’s not prudent to suggest the sort of de facto argument of cannabis legalization is going to be disastrous for public health outcomes. And in fact, it’s just the opposite,” Slade said.

“We’re finding that across the board in states where cannabis is legalized for purposes of medical or adult use, and in many cases, both the public health outcomes that we looked at within our scope have been better, more improved than that of those within illicit states,” added Slade who has worked with Maine’s Marijuana Policy office, South Dakota’s MMJ Program, Rhode Island’s Cannabis Regulations office, in Albuquerque, NM and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Debunking Myths One Variable At A Time

Some companies have reconverted infrastructure into cannabis cultivation sites, while others work with small local firms, governments and NGOs from communities harmed by the war on drugs. But how can companies be sure that their investments are going to have a measurable impact? More importantly, how stakeholders can leverage data-driven public policies to generate a meaningful impact in state cannabis markets?

According to the CPPC, the key is in approaching public opinion with the right information. Statistical indicators can shed light on the real impact of cannabis legalization and mitigate the noise to understand the market signals and the social context in which legalization takes place.

“We looked at a few variables. When you look at the research that currently exists in the space regarding public health and cannabis, a lot of the literature is very specific. Often you’ll hear people say ‘Oh, it’s going to be horrible for public health,’ but, when we talk about public health as a scope overall, we’re not talking about just health status. We’re talking about impacts on society,” Slade replied. 

“To define the scope of public health we looked at the correlation between four different public health outcomes, and we did this by looking at the four behavioral patterns that are most associated with harm, for example, ‘early age of initiation,’ ‘increased frequency of use,’ ‘cannabis use disorder,’ and ‘driving under the influence of cannabis.’ It’s a sort of snowballing effect where one behavior increases the likelihood of the other behavior. 

“When we look across illicit states, medical-only states, and adult-use states, the age at which the youth population particularly are consuming is lower within illicit states (…) that’s important because the de facto argument of you legalize cannabis, ‘you’re going to make it more accessible and kids are going to start using more frequently and at a younger age,’ and that argument is now debunked.” Slade added that states where cannabis is entirely illicit, they’re finding the worse health outcomes after adjusting for socio-demographics and health status.

A National Quarterly Cannabis Survey

According to Slade, there are several cannabis-related surveys on the market, but very few of them contain policy questions, but rather focus on factors like licensing and taxation. CPPC’s survey goes out to a representative sample of all 50 states. “It is a repeated cross-sectional study and ultimately it assesses cannabis-related public health market and social equity policy outcomes. So it’s one of the only inferential analysis surveys on the market,” Slade explained.

“It looks at about 200 outcomes, but the important factor is what we call the demand study. It empirically estimates cannabis demand across each market. We survey consumers, and we can empirically estimate how much cannabis demand is prioritized for the illicit market. How many consumers are getting theirs, per gram, per the product type, per method of administration, etc.”

Making Sustainable, Safe State Markets

While the CPPC is predominantly focused on the states, that doesn’t mean they haven’t had conversations on the federal level. 

“We work with the state governments. Our business line helps enhance cannabis businesses on the aggregate. We help the state make an industry. Without the data you can’t write proper policy,” Slade said. 

“We can help states to launch their markets. Who’s going to partake in medical cannabis? How many plants should we grow at home? How many retailers should we have across the state? Are all pivotal questions to write policy and make sure that markets are sustainable.” 

Cannabis Policy Simulation Lab: Behavioral Economics And Predictive Analytics

To provide insights, the CPPC uses predictive analytics. No matter what outcome or industry you’re looking at predictive analytics are being used. “It is literally and figuratively the future,” Slade said.

“Look at the financial world, predictive analytics are constantly being used for modeling and forecasting trends and behaviors. It’s how investors know where the most fruitful opportunities are. That’s why we have a lot of data, especially from a consumer side,” she continued, noting that the system is beyond forecasting. 

“With that validated data, we can simulate policy changes and predict how outcomes will move. Cannabis markets are really sensitive to path dependence. So every policy decision we make today has to be as close to right as possible,” Slade explained.

“We learn what people like, how they like to consume cannabis, and what method of administration they prefer. We are the only survey currently and the only firm that has dosage per occasion based on product type.”

Photo Credits: Lumppini on Shutterstock and LinkedIn. 

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