Turning great ideas into healthier communities

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PHI provides national leadership and guidance on cannabis policy development, implementation and analysis, in order to ensure that implementation is just, reduces harms, and addresses youth and problem use. PHI's model legislation has been used at the local and state levels,  including recommendations such as equity licenses, automatic expungement of possession convictions, age and ID verification on delivery, a ban on health and therapeutic claims, and restrictions on products that appeal to youth. PHI researchers analyze the immediate and long-term impacts from changes in local, state, and federal marijuana policies, new use patterns and their implications post-legalization.

Resources and Tools


William Kerr

William C. Kerr, Ph.D., is a senior scientist at the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, and is Director of ARG’s National Alcoh...

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Getting it Right from the Start: Regulation of Recreational Marijuana

Getting it Right from the Start, a program of policy advocacy, research and technical assistance, promotes marijuana law and regulation which bette...

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Here's How We're Making a Difference

Developing Model Marijuana Ordinances to Support Communities

Getting it Right from the Start builds on decades of public health experience in policy on harmful but legal products to develop model ordinances and options to educate cities and counties to better balance protection of youth from harmful health impacts with the equity impacts of decriminalization.

Working with key legal partners, the team developed a model ordinance/ballot initiative for local taxation of marijuana, designed to grow over time to, help discourage high potency products and youth use, and provide sustained financial support to local efforts to create healthier and more equitable communities and prevent substance abuse. The resource is meant to be used as a starting point for local communities in developing their own local policies. 

The project reached out to every California city and county with information on the model ordinances and other resources, and provided one-on-one technical assistance with San Francisco, LA, Kern, Humboldt, San Mateo, Riverside, Sonoma, Ventura, Solano, Alameda, Mono, Contra Costa and Shasta Counties, and Long Beach, Culver City, Emeryville, Mammoth Lakes, Placerville, and Berkeley cities. Findings from the project have also been presented at national and state-based conferences. 

Guiding Cannabis Policies that Protect Youth & Health

As cannabis legalization swept the nation, PHI’s Getting It Right from the Start provided national leadership and guidance on policy implementation, with the goal of reducing harms, and addressing youth and problem use.

In 2019, California adopted program recommendations including age and ID verification on delivery; stronger exclusions on products attractive to children or resembling certain common foods; and maintenance of child-resistant packaging requirements. Getting it Right from the Start was also formally appointed to the Prop 64 Advisory Group—helping to monitor emerging trends in youth substance abuse, make recommendations on substance abuse prevention, and review the granting of cannabis funds deposited in the Youth Education Prevention, Early Intervention, and Treatment Account. And in Illinois, new laws included recommendations made by the program such as equity licenses; automatic expungement of possession convictions; a ban on health and therapeutic claims; and restrictions on advertising near youth sensitive locations.

The program also guided municipalities and governments in nine states and Canada in 2019—and thanks to their technical assistance, 82 cities and counties across the United States adopted limits on the number of cannabis dispensaries in their locality, and 52 adopted some form of cannabis business signage or advertising restrictions.

Identifying Youths’ Perceptions of Cannabis

The legalization of cannabis is quickly unfolding in many statesbut how does this influence youth use and perceptions of its harms? To explore this critical question, PHI’s Getting it Right from the Start and PHI’s FACES for the Future collaborated to conduct focus groups and surveys with 338 students high school students in California and other states. Almost half of the students reported ever having used marijuana, and about a quarter of them reported using it within the last month. A third of the students revealed that they have attended school while being under the influence of cannabis. Many high school students shared that they perceive cannabis as a health and wellness product that could be used to alleviate mental health conditions and other ailments, or as a preferred alternative to opioids.