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The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a health report Monday with findings that unlicensed cannabis dispensaries in LA County — in contrast to those that are licensed — are overconcentrated in areas already burdened with health disadvantages and engage in business practices that pose health risks to consumers.

The report provides new information on the health implications of cannabis regulatory options for local jurisdictions.

Areas of the county that are currently licensing dispensaries have seen a decrease in the number of unlicensed dispensaries, while the areas that maintain a ban have not.

“It is critical that we regulate cannabis in ways that minimize potential health risks,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, director of Public Health. “As in other areas of social policy, the potential risks posed by the legalization of cannabis should not be disproportionately experienced by low-income communities and communities of color; we need to take actions to promote health equity through careful implementation.”

The report also found that cannabis-related emergency department visits increased among African Americans and young adults over the past five years. In 2017, these visits were more frequent among patients living in areas with higher concentrations of dispensaries.

In 2018, greater neighborhood density of unlicensed dispensaries was associated with higher rates of violent crime, but the density of licensed dispensaries was not.

In 2017-2018, cannabis use among middle and high school students increased slightly for the first time in five years. Cannabis use was higher among students in lower-income schools and among students reporting less supportive school environments.

The report presents health-related data and recommendations addressing some key questions for local regulators:
* Where should licensed cannabis dispensaries be located and how many should there be?
* What types of business practices should be promoted or incentivized among licensed dispensaries?
* What enforcement and assurance methods should be considered to eliminate unlicensed dispensaries and to promote product safety and safe driving conditions?
* How can cannabis taxation facilitate access to medicinal cannabis and support evidence-based cannabis prevention programs for youth?

The report concludes with 15 recommendations for local jurisdictions interested in minimizing health risks and promoting health equity as they consider regulation of retail cannabis businesses in their areas.

To view the full report online, visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/chie.

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