Legalized marijuana is a new world for youth drug prevention programs, and the data does not yet exist to determine which programs are the most effective, prevention specialists told lawmakers Monday morning.
“There just hasn’t been enough done specifically looking at youth marijuana use… especially in the context of legalized marijuana,” Brittany Rhoades Cooper, an assistant professor in Washington State University’s Department of Human Development, told the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing committee, which heard Senate Bill 5245.
Initiative 502 provides 15 percent of the state’s marijuana excise tax to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The agency is required to use 85 percent of that funding for prevention programs that are “evidence-based” and “cost-beneficial.” DSHS is expected to receive $29 million for the 2015-17 biennium, and $52 million for the 2017-19 biennium from marijuana excise taxes.
However, prevention specialists told the committee that the data still need to be gathered on the effectiveness of programs and why they work — especially now with recreational marijuana legal in Washington.
“No programs have ever been tested in the context of legalized marijuana,” said Kevin Haggerty, a professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
Senate Bill 5245 would allow DSHS to use the money it gets from Initiative 502 to evaluate drug prevention programs.
“Communities should have the best evidence to do the work,” Haggerty said. “We owe it to our communities to provide a strong menu of options…. and we need to provide programs in the context of legalized marijuana.”
The bill also would delay the requirement that the funded programs have a good cost-benefit analysis until 2020, but it still allows local communities to use money for prevention programs in the meantime.
Cooper added that it was important continue to fund prevention programs while the studies are being done.
If the funding isn’t maintained, “all of the good intended by those dollars will likely fall short, and our communities can’t wait until the research catches up,” she said.