Getting it Right from the Start

Advancing Public Health & Equity in Cannabis Policy


Learn MoreContact Us

They say the devil is in the details.

We’re here to help.
(for FREE!)

As of May of 2021, only 3 states in the U.S. have not legalized cannabis in some form, and 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult-use cannabis retail sales. However, in most states legalization has focused more on creating a legal profit-making system than on putting in place the guardrails to protect public health, youth or social equity.  Our project works with states that have legalized or are considering legalizing cannabis, as well as  cities and counties, to develop and share models for safer cannabis policy and provide guidance on policies that can reduce harm, protect youth and reduce problem cannabis use, and promote social equity. We draw on the best science available from research on cannabis policy and lessons from tobacco and alcohol control. 

We have conveyed our research into best practices

Model Ordinances

Guidance on public health & equity measures that states, cities and counties should consider adopting  if cannabis legalization is under consideration or has already occurred.  Specific models appropriate for California cities and counties are available.

Model Comments & Letters

Based on the best scientific evidence, we draft model comments & letters on proposed cannabis regulations.

Basic Principles of Action

We have prepared an abbreviated version of key principles and action steps for regulating.

Two Cannabis Bills Detrimental to Public Health and Food Safety


We can allow safer legal access to cannabis and useful hemp products without going backward in our commitments to public health and food safety. Commentary originally published on CalMatters on September 7, 2021.

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. Angered San Luis Obispo parents sued, and this year the courts concurred that the regulation violated Prop. 64’s intent to protect children.

AB 1302, introduced by Assemblymember Bill Quirk, a Democrat from Hayward, will make those billboards OK, while a dozen other states effectively prohibit cannabis billboards. Companies use billboards because they work. Research confirms they increase interest in and use of unhealthy products by youth. One study found increased cannabis use and dependency in teen cannabis users exposed to billboards after legalization in six states. Gov. Gavin Newsom should veto this bill that will expose kids to cannabis ads.

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.

The State of Cannabis: Local Scorecards Provide Glimpse into California’s ‘Wild West’ Patchwork of Cannabis Policies

OAKLAND, CALIF., JANUARY 14, 2021 … For the first time, California cities and counties can measure how well their new cannabis ordinances are protecting youth and supporting social equity. Released today by Getting it Right from the Start at the Public Health Institute (PHI), 157 scorecards summarize cannabis policies in each of the California cities and counties that have opted to permit storefront sales of recreational cannabis. The scorecards bring light to a patchwork of local policies that often fall far short of what public health leaders believe is necessary to prevent the cannabis industry from following in the footsteps of Big Tobacco.

“California is solidly in the ‘Wild West’ of cannabis regulation, creating an overheated cannabis market that has already led to increases in teen use. This approach can have serious negative impacts on physical and mental health, as well as equity,” says pediatrician Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, who heads PHI’s Getting it Right from the Start project.

The City of San Luis Obispo scored the highest of all jurisdictions, with 52 points, thanks to several early and bold actions by the city council, including limiting the number of retailers and distancing them from places that serve youth. Contra Costa County came in second, showing nationwide leadership by prohibiting the sale of flavored products for inhalation or combustion, widely known to hook kids, and establishing zoning rules beyond state law to keep cannabis storefronts away from schools.

“The practical information PHI offers to cities and counties is indispensable, and was used to formulate our local rules,” says Dan Peddycord, Director of Public Health for Contra Costa County. “Local governments’ decisions over the next few years will be critical. If we do this right, we can provide safer legal access while reversing epidemic increases in youth vaping and heavy use of marijuana. But without swift action, we could expose our young people to harm for decades to come.”

Cannabis products, what are they?

Product diversification is a key and concerning strategy of today’s cannabis industry. From traditional flowers to inhaled products to edibles, the world of cannabis products and their modes of consumption is constantly changing. To shed some light on this topic we created a short brief on Cannabis Products, with some basics and examples of commonly used products currently available in the industry.

Access our most recent Webinar on Mobilizing Local Cannabis Tax Revenue in the COVID-19 Era

In 2018, 289, or 58% of California cities and counties legalized some form of commercial cannabis activity, including cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, retail or testing. Of those, at least 53% did not levy a tax. 

What legal limits have cities and counties adopted since California legalized marijuana use for adults, and to what extent do these legal limits incorporate public health recommendations and lessons from tobacco control?

Assessment of Incorporation of Lessons From Tobacco Control in City and County Laws Regulating Legal Marijuana in California

California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and adult recreational use in 2016, effective in January 2018.

California Cannabis Tax Revenues Padding Law Enforcement Budgets

As activists across the country call to reduce funding for police departments, a report from Youth Forward and PHI’s Getting It Right from the Start shows cities across California are spending cannabis revenues on city and county law enforcement.

Program Goals

  • Protect children and youth
  • Don’t exacerbate existing health inequalities such as low birth weight, poor mental health outcomes, or lower high school graduation rates
  • Minimize cannabis dependency and attendant health and social harms
  • Minimize creation of a powerful new tobacco-like industry
  • Reduce social harms related to the war on drugs
  • Promote economic and social justice

Reach Us

Getting it Right from the Start
Public Health Institute
555 12th Street, Ste 290
Oakland, CA 94607

About Us

We collaboratively develop and test models for  optimal cannabis policy (retail practices, marketing & taxation), based on the best available scientific evidence,  with the goal of reducing harms, youth use & problem use and promoting social justice and equity. 

We provide technical assistance to jurisdictions which have legalized cannabis or are considering legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis, and to community partners. Please contact Aurash Soroosh for more information.