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Recreational pot ballot measure would help protect children

A ballot measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana includes the strictest child safeguards ever proposed in marijuana legislation anywhere, but it would also invest unprecedented revenue into proven drug prevention and treatment programs for young people.
A ballot measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana includes the strictest child safeguards ever proposed in marijuana legislation anywhere, but it would also invest unprecedented revenue into proven drug prevention and treatment programs for young people. rbenton@sacbee.com

As the former division chief for preventive medicine at the California Department of Public Health, I know that, like alcohol, marijuana has potential health consequences for California youths.

Unfortunately, our current legal approach to non-medical marijuana use is failing to protect our kids. It is unregulated yet widely available without any child protections.

Marijuana should not be easier for a minor to access than a fifth of gin. But, as we all know, drug dealers don’t check for ID.

That’s why I and Michael Sutton, a conservationist and former president of the California Fish and Game Commission, recently filed a responsible statewide ballot measure to control, regulate and tax adult use of marijuana.

We can’t protect children from marijuana’s unique risks if we don’t first establish a transparent and tightly regulated system that tracks the product from seed to sale, out of public view and secure from kids.

Not only does our measure include the strictest child safeguards ever proposed in marijuana legislation anywhere in America, but it would also invest unprecedented revenue into proven drug prevention and treatment programs for young people. Many will be modeled after award-winning tobacco-control programs, which I helped to create and oversee for the state.

We include broad bans on marketing to anyone under the age of 21, including no advertisements within 1,000 feet of a school, playground or day care center; establish the tough packaging and warning label requirements; and maintain strong criminal penalties for anyone providing marijuana to a minor.

Our measure will also invest hundreds of millions of dollars into state and local law enforcement programs to keep our streets safer and keep marijuana out of the hands of criminals and children.

And our measure will help restore our drought-damaged natural resources from marijuana cultivation and prevent unauthorized water diversion, while funding critical environmental cleanup – provisions that earned the praise of respected environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy.

But none of this can occur until we bring California’s flourishing but currently illicit non-medical marijuana market out of the shadows, where it can be controlled and overseen by state regulators, law enforcement and local governments.

Unlike the Ohio marijuana measure that was rightfully rejected by voters this month, our initiative explicitly discourages corporate monopolization.

In fact, it specifically empowers state regulators to deny a license to prevent “creation or maintenance of unlawful monopoly power.” It also gives priority in non-medical marijuana licensing to businesses that have complied with the state’s medical marijuana laws, and makes it easier for small businesses to enter the market.

Our measure adheres to the recommendations of the Lieutenant Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy in preserving the rights of local communities to decide how and where marijuana businesses should operate within their boundaries, if at all.

Lastly, it builds on the same regulatory structure and extends the same labor and workplace protections as the bipartisan bills passed by our Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month.

Debate continues about the health effects of marijuana, but the medical evidence is overwhelming that addiction is relatively low compared against alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not pose a personal health risk for healthy adults.

But, for public health experts, the science is just as compelling that marijuana can have negative effects on the developing brains and bodies of youths.

That is where our focus must lie and why, if we are truly interested in protecting our children from the unique risks of marijuana, we must pass sensible laws to regulate, control and tax it.

Come this time next year, California voters will be given that chance.

Dr. Donald O. Lyman is a Sacramento resident and public health officer who worked for the state of California for 34 years, most recently as division chief of Chronic Disease and Injury Control at the California Department of Public Health.

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