Legalizing cannabis was supposed to be about social justice. About ending mass incarceration of people of color for possessing a small amount of marijuana. About safer legal access.
But there are many things legalization should not be about. It should not be about initiating and hooking more kids, or adding neurologically active and psychoactive substances to our food.
Yet all these things are happening. The cannabis lobbyists are no longer off-the-grid farmers from the Emerald Triangle. They are Altria, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies and Constellation, a major alcohol company. The halls of our state Capitol are replete with cannabis and hemp lobbyists successfully selling their goods.
As this legislative session winds down, at least two dangerous cannabis and hemp-related bills are moving forward.
Assembly Bill 1302, which recently passed by one vote, will assure that our kids grow up seeing billboards for cannabis, just as I grew up with the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel. When we legalized cannabis, Proposition 64 promised that California would have stringent protections for children, and prohibited billboards. The state turned around and allowed them through regulation.
A second bill, Assembly Bill 45, introduced by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat from Woodland, claims to create a regulatory system for hemp, but poses different problems. An 11th-hour amendment deal only made public Thursday night will legalize production of a new class of smokable hemp products prohibited in previous versions. It will include flavored hemp e-cigarettes and cigarettes that attract kids — provided the flavors are “natural.” If AB 45 passes, smokable hemp will be the new path to introduce youth to smoking.
There is longstanding U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy to keep the pharmaceutical and food markets separate — you can’t sprinkle licensed pharmaceuticals into food. But AB 45 will undermine this policy by allowing addition of hemp-derived CBD, THC and the more than 100 other cannabinoids in hemp to food, supplements and pet products.
California is making progress in ending the injustices from the war on drugs. But we can allow safer legal access to cannabis and useful hemp products without going backward in our commitments to public health and food safety.
Dr. Lynn Silver is a pediatrician and senior adviser at the Public Health Institute.