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Living Near Legal "Pot Shops" Increases Use Among Youth, RAND Study Finds
By Jorge Casuso
June 17, 2019 -- As Santa Monica prepares to open its first two medical marijuana dispensaries, a study by RAND released Monday found that such facilities encourage use among young adults who live nearby.
The study by the Santa Monica-based think tank found that young adults who live in neighborhoods with more medical marijuana dispensaries use the drug more frequently than their peers and view it more positively.
Storefront signage "substantially magnifies" the greater use and positive views among the group of people between the ages of 18 and 22 surveyed for the study, researchers found.
“Our findings suggest that as the marijuana retail outlets become more visible and more numerous, they may influence the way that young adults perceive and use marijuana,” said Regina Shih, the study's lead author and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND.
The results of the study published online by the journal "Addiction" are based on an analysis of survey results from 1,887 young adults who live in Los Angeles County.
It found that nearly 85 percent of the participants lived within four miles of ten or more medical marijuana dispensaries.
"Living near more medical marijuana dispensaries was associated with using marijuana on a greater number of days over the past month and with higher positive expectations about marijuana," the researchers said.
Last December, Santa Monica chose two companies to run the city's first medical marijuana dispensaries ("Santa Monica Chooses Medical Marijuana Retailers," December 20, 2018).
Harvest of Santa Monica, LLC and CPC Compassion, Inc. were chosen after the City Council in October 2017 voted to issue two permits to marijuana retailers ("Santa Monica City Council Approves Law Allowing Medicinal “Pot Shops,” October 12, 2017).
Santa Monica had long resisted calls for such shops, arguing they could bring crime and other problems.
Under Santa Monica’s medical cannabis law, retailers are restricted to the two-mile confines of Wilshire Boulevard, from Lincoln to the city limits, and along Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln and 20th Street or between 23rd Street and Centinela Avenue.
The website Weedmaps lists 13 marijuana dispensaries in the nearby Venice/Marina del Rey area.
The RAND study suggests that regulating storefront signs "could be one strategy if policymakers were concerned about curbing use of marijuana."
Based on RAND's ongoing research, the City of Los Angeles adopted an ordinance last year to restrict some storefront and billboard advertising.
Those surveyed for the study released Monday have been "long-term participants in an ongoing RAND project examining multiple factors about the use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs" among young adults, RAND researchers said.
Most of those in the study were in college or trade school at the time of the survey.
RAND found that frequent marijuana use among youth increased the risk of mental and physical health problems, relationship problems, motor vehicle accidents and dropping out of school.
“Attention is needed on access to marijuana for young adults, as marijuana use is most prevalent among this age group and is also associated with increased risk for several substance use disorders,” Shih said.
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