According to a new study co-authored by researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, California neighborhoods where cannabis retailers are located tend to have higher proportions of Latino and Black residents and lower proportions of white people. The areas also tend to have a higher poverty rate than those without such retailers.
The research shows that “minority populations in California are disproportionately exposed to unlicensed cannabis retailers,” the authors wrote. The study examined areas where both licensed and unlicensed retailers are located. Overall, neighborhoods served by any retailer represented 42% of the state’s population.
The study was published in the September issue of Preventive Medicine Reports and was co-written by Jennifer B. Unger, PhD, professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School; Jane Steinberg, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School; and Robert O. Vos, PhD, assistant professor of spatial sciences at USC Dornsife.
Recreational use of cannabis by adults became legal in California in 2016, and state and local licenses were issued starting in 2018. Only 20% of California cities allow retail sales of cannabis, but according to the study’s findings, a thriving black market exists where unlicensed cannabis retailers operate.
The researchers identified 1,110 cannabis retailers in the state — 448 licensed and 662 unlicensed. Relative to neighborhoods without retailers, neighborhoods with retailers had higher proportions of Latino and Black residents as well as people living below the poverty level. Compared with neighborhoods with only licensed retailers, neighborhoods with only unlicensed retailers had higher proportions of Latino and Black residents and lower proportions of non-Hispanic whites. Neighborhoods with both licensed and unlicensed retailers had higher proportions of Black residents, Asian Americans and people living in poverty relative to neighborhoods with only licensed retailers.
The paper noted that unincorporated areas lack enforcement capabilities to inspect stores for product quality, to ensure minors aren’t purchasing the products, and to close down retailers who violate the law, “thereby potentially exacerbating health disparities within these communities.”
— Landon Hall
Additional researchers from the Keck School included Daniel W. Soto, MPH; Christopher Rogers, PhD (candidate), MPH; Jasmine SiyuWu, BS (candidate); Kimberly Hardaway; and Ada Y. LiSarain, PhD (candidate).