WSLCB - Executive Management Team
(December 9, 2020) - Public Health and Prevention

Know This About Cannabis - It's Never Too Late

WSLCB’s leading substance use prevention staffer provided their first in-depth update in months, pushing back against temporary policy allowances and raising public health concerns.

Here are some observations from the Wednesday December 9th Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Executive Management Team (EMT) meeting. Today we cover Public Health Education Liaison Sara Cooley Broschart’s update.

My top 2 takeaways:

  • Broschart reviewed public health and prevention activities by the agency while sharing selected research and external communications (audio - 13m).
    • Broschart began her presentation summarizing “the input we’ve been getting from prevention/public health communities since the onset of Stay Home, Stay Healthy,” the proclamation from Governor Jay Inslee addressing the coronavirus pandemic. She wanted to inform the Board ahead of the 2021 legislative session about the “top level highlight[s]” of several “really robust policy discussions” she had participated in with stakeholder groups.
    • Broschart acknowledged the fiscal strain on the agency as well as on many WSLCB licensees due to COVID-19 restrictions, saying it was “obvious to me and to most of our public health community members. So, they just want to be sure, I think, overall, that public health impacts” were considered to avoid anticipated “unintentional consequences” from the agency's coronavirus response.
    • “We definitely need to listen to science," Broschart said of policy decisions, “and again, LCB’s been great at doing that.” She stated "the research is clear about the impact of increasing access and availability of alcohol.” While the “newness” of legal cannabis made comparable research “less extensive,” she nonetheless argued that “these lessons can likely be applied to cannabis” as well.
    • Broschart explained that the American Public Health Association (APHA) “has weighed in” against the loosening of alcohol regulations in the wake of the pandemic. Broschart said it was a “really big deal” as APHA represented some of the “foremost” experts on the COVID-19 crisis. She then mentioned a study from Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research which found “the most drinking and the most problem drinking that we’ve seen since [alcohol] prohibition” had been identified prior to COVID-19. Broschart shared APHA’s view that those from communities “already disproportionately burdened by the pandemic” were likely to “be more impacted by” negative outcomes.
      • In their news release, APHA President Lisa Carlson was quoted as saying the public health community “should be squarely at the table in policy discussions around alcohol regulations in general, and certainly during the pandemic.”
      • The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study on “Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US” on September 29th.
    • Broschart told the group she’d invited Boston University Professor David Jernigan and Beatriz Carlini, a UW School of Public Health Affiliate Associate Professor, to speak to WSLCB Policy and Rules staff “about the public health consequences” stemming from the pandemic. She shared information on the “consequences” of temporary alcohol allowances given financial and emotional pressures members of the public experienced throughout the year. Broschart said researchers had “looked at other disasters to analyze the impacts of these kinds of stresses on alcohol use” and had urged agency leaders evaluating whether to make some allowances permanent to keep harms in mind when “considering their continuance.”
    • She reported that Jernigan provided data suggesting “increases in violence and domestic violence” in addition to child abuse in the short term with “long term consequences” like greater alcohol dependence/use by “women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities” all groups that she said were “at times disproportionately impacted with negative” outcomes from alcohol use. Broschart conveyed that health officials “realize we're not going to be able to revert back to life as we know it” in a number of ways “and this would be one of them.” The cumulative impact of temporary allowances amounted to "turning the dial up across many" different issues of access, she argued.
    • Broschart next talked about “correspondence with LCB” and showed a list “of all the different groups that we have heard from at LCB since April.” The list included:
    • WSLCB hosted a prevention roundtable in June where “many individuals brought up” concerns about the temporary policies Broschart described. She noted two more virtual prevention roundtables were scheduled for December 17th and 18th.
    • Broschart added that Prevention Voices is a new, statewide advocacy group that has formed, in many ways, to address this issue.” Broschart shared a document from Prevention Voices with agency leadership which she felt described “what the concerns really are from the prevention community.” Beyond “negative consequences” from increased use were projections of “increased social and healthcare costs” like more drug treatment spending “down the line.” Broschart said the group had concerns about both alcohol and cannabis allowances including “enforcement issues” such as age verification. 
    • While Prevention Voices applied a heavy “youth lens” to their recommendations, she noted that Jernigan and Carlini had “concern across the population” around increased substance use. She repeated her observation that “as the social norms shift" in the direction of alcohol being “normative...the science does show that youth use generally goes up." Broschart claimed experts were finding problems around “third party delivery, and delivery in general, that have shown that improvement is needed” and pointed to a May 28th member advisory from the National Liquor Law Enforcement Association (NLLEA) as evidence the group was against permanent delivery policies.
      • The advisory recommends agencies like WSLCB “encourage its licensee community to follow best practice protocols for home delivery and curbside pickup.” 
      • On August 27th, NLLEA’s weekly update said of delivery and to-go service: “struggling restaurants say it’s a lifeline, letting them rehire bartenders, pay rent and reestablish relationships with customers. But others want states to slow down, saying the decades-old laws help ensure public safety.”
    • Rushford thanked Broschart, saying it was “important to keep these perspectives and this discussion in front of us” when attempting to help struggling businesses while keeping a “guardrail” in place supporting “public health and prevention” (audio - 1m).

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