Getting it Right from the Start

Advancing Public Health & Equity in Cannabis Policy


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They say the devil is in the details.

We’re here to help.
(for FREE!)

In most states, cannabis legalization has focused mainly on creating a legal profit-making system rather than putting guardrails in place to promote public health, protect youth, and advance social equity. Our project works with jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis, or are considering legalizing it, to develop and share models for safer and more effective cannabis policy. We provide guidance on policies that can reduce harm, prevent problem cannabis use, and remedy the harms caused by the criminalization of cannabis. We take an evidence-based approach and draw on scientific research, cannabis policy analyses, 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.

Billboards advertising pot broke Prop. 64’s promise. Don’t go back on the pledge to protect teens.

By Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, January 2, 2022

Shielding teens from increased exposure to marijuana was a key selling point of the legalization plan California voters approved in 2016. The measure included “toughest-in-the-nation protections for children,” proponents said, by banning cannabis advertising aimed at those under age 21 and restricting where billboards can be placed.

Unfortunately, in the five years since voters passed Proposition 64, it’s been a nonstop game of whack-a-mole to try to keep the pot industry and cannabis regulators faithful to these promises. And success has been mixed.

“There is something to seeing the billboards in your community that more effectively, perhaps, normalizes the use of cannabis,” said Alisa A. Padon, a research scientist at the Public Health Institute in Oakland.”

Press Release: The State of Cannabis Policy in California's Cities & Counties


California’s Local Cannabis Policies Can’t Keep Pace With Surging Sales,

Leaving Public Health and Equity Behind

Scorecards Reveal Pathway Forward for Cities and Counties

OAKLAND, CALIF., DECEMBER 2, 2021 … While legal cannabis sales in California are increasing dramatically, local policy efforts to protect youth and public health have lagged behind, according to a statewide study conducted by the Public Health Institute’s Getting it Right from the Start Project.

The Project, which generates scorecards evaluating policies passed by cities and counties that allow cannabis sales, found only limited progress in cannabis policy since 2020, with many jurisdictions not yet opting to go beyond basic state law to promote public health, protect youth or advance social equity.

“Until the state takes up its responsibilities to protect our kids, it falls on local governments to do what’s necessary to protect our public health and prevent the cannabis industry from evolving into yet another ‘Big Tobacco,’” says Dr. Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, the Project’s Principal Investigator. “These scorecards provide a clear roadmap for cities and counties.”

Some local governments are choosing to lead the way, taxing more dangerous high potency products and prohibiting flavored products—such as flavored grape vaping cartridges and strawberry “pre-rolls”— known to attract youth, and capping the number of retailers to avoid oversaturation. While 52 percent of all jurisdictions in the state allow some form of legal cannabis retail, only three of them, Contra Costa County and the cities of San Luis Obispo and El Monte, scored at or above 50 out of a possible 100 points on the scorecard, with a statewide average score of 17 across all jurisdictions allowing any form of retail sales. Turlock improved the most, rising from 11 to 31 points from 2020 to 2021.

“The legal market in California is growing,” says Dr. Alisa Padon, the Project’s research director. “Sales, and consequently tax revenue, grew by 55 percent in just the past year, with the number of licensed retailers skyrocketing to 1,361. Yet the state and many local jurisdictions have failed to put in the urgently needed guardrails necessary to protect kids and public health, or advance social equity. Some communities are beginning to step up to the plate, but many more need to take action…”

NEWS!! California State Governor Newsom Vetoes Bill That Would Allow Cannabis Billboards Along Most CA Highways

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, October 8, 2021, vetoed AB 1302 (Quirk), a bill that would render Prop 64’s promised protections against exposing children to cannabis marketing ineffective by allowing cannabis licensees to advertise on highway billboards or similar devices as long as it is placed further than 15-miles from the California border.

Gov. Newsom sided with groups like the Public Health Institute, an independent nonprofit, and Youth Forward, a Sacramento-based youth advocacy organization, that cannabis ads on billboards would “further expose our children and young people to cannabis ads every day.” In his veto message, Newsom states that he rejected AB 1302 because “allowing advertising on these high-traffic thoroughfares could expose young passengers to cannabis advertising.”

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.

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.