Community Assessment

Negative Impacts of Marijuana Use on Youth

There is strong evidence on the detrimental impact of THC use during adolescence, and negative impacts may be higher for adolescents who use cannabis with high THC concentration or use more frequently. Use of cannabis with high THC concentration increases the chances of developing cannabis use disorder or addiction to cannabis, particularly among adolescents. Studies on the impact of cannabis use on human adolescent brain development have shown that cannabis can disrupt cognitive aptitude and behavior, brain anatomy and connectivity, and motivated behavior and dopamine function.

Among youth, substance use prevention strategies are designed to reduce risk factors and build protective factors so youth do not use marijuana. Once youth develop problems with substance abuse, they are candidates for treatment services, not prevention strategies. The goal is to reduce initation and use of marijuana by youth and among populations most adversely affected by marijuana, as well as to provide information and support to youth and the adults who influence them.


Relaxed Restrictions of Marijuana Sales During COVID-19

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary allowances have been granted for small business owners in Washington State to remain open allowing for the relaxation of previous restrictions in the sale of marijuana, vape/e-cigarette, and glass products. The temporary lax of restrictions in these product sales has increased access to these substances, which subsequently increases the risk factors for youth to engage in the use of these substances and may lead to poor health outcomes.

The allowance of the new temporary measures provided an opportunity for environmental research using a preventative care lens to investigate how the new changes in marijuana, vape/e-cigarette, and glass shop allowances have impacted communities across Washington State, and furthermore provide evidence to support the fundamental reasons why the temporary allowances should not become permanent.


M-VAPE Survey

The M-VAPE Survey is a community-based environmental scan of marijuana and vape stores conducted in order to:

  • Capture community snapshots of marijuana and vape stores during the pandemic with relaxed Liquor and Cannabis Board allowance
  • Increase awareness of implications to decision makers and inform state level policy discussions
  • Gather data about the neighborhoods, advertising, and behaviors around marijuana, vape, and glass shops



Notable M-VAPE Survey Findings

The neighborhood density survey of youth exposure to marijuana uncovered several themes and implications for investigation and advocacy:

  • Advertising: Potential for perceptions and attitudes of substance use normalization in our communities through youth-appealing ads combined with  proximity to youth friendly places
  • Accessibility: Potential to magnify risk factors for youth to develop substance use disorders due to relaxed allowances that increase access
  • Normalization: Potential for shift in attitudes and beliefs about safety vs. benefits of use when in close proximity to youth friendly places


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This presentation guides you through a tour of marijuana retailers in Thurston County. The photos and findings in this presentation are observations made during the M-VAPE Survey. Findings of concern are noted below.

Marijuana Retailer Density

There are 22 marijuana retailers in Thurston County, and the average distance between them is 0.89 mile. This is a concern because density of marijuana retailers is associated with more use and greater intensity of use among young adults. The neighborhoods in Thurston County with the highest density of marijuana retailers included Tanglewilde, East Olympia, Rochester, and Yelm.


 Click here to view data visualization in full screen.

Proximity to Alcohol and/or Cigarette, Tobacco, and/or Vapor Retailers

Marijuana retailers tended to be located near retailers with alcohol licenses and/or cigarette, tobacco, and/or vapor licenses, which contributes to concentrations of substance advertising and availability. In some areas such as Tanglewilde, marijuana retailers were also near gambling, tattoo, alcohol, and sexualized businesses.


 Click here to view visualization in full screen.

Proximity to Places Frequented by Youth

Marijuana retailers were often located near places frequented by youth, such as schools, parks, playgrounds, childcare, driving school, places of worship, bowling alleys, dance studios, etc. There were also environmental elements observed near marijuana retailers suggesting that youth gather or hang out in the neighborhood, such as benches, picnic tables, trails, bike racks, school bus stops, city bus stops, etc.

Per RCW 69.50.331(8), marijuana retailers must not be within 1,000 feet from elementary or secondary schools, playgrounds, recreation centers or facilities, child care centers, public parks, public transit centers, libraries, or game arcades. Recent legislation allows local governments to reduce the 1,000-foot buffer requirements to 100 feet around these entities, except elementary and secondary schools and public playgrounds.


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Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Marijuana retailers tended to be located in neighborhoods with higher percentages of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations. This is representative of racial and ethnic disparities stemming from historic redlining. We must consider the role of structural racism in the availability of marijuana and assess the impacts of historic redlining on present day risks for exposure to marijuana retailers. In addition, permanent relaxed sales policies will result in greater inequity for youth of color, as they are unfairly targeted for possession and consumption behaviors where they live, increasing the school-to-prison pipeline surge.


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Several marijuana retailers had large pylon signs visible from the street advertising that marijuana was sold there. Some marijuana retailers were also painted green. Billboard advertising was very prevalent in Tumwater and the Tanglewilde area of Thurston County. Other forms of advertising included social media promotion, sandwich boards, etc. All of this advertising contributes to increased perceived availability, which is one of the leading risk factors for youth substance use.


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Online Order Pickup and Delivery

With the relaxed restrictions of marijuana sales during COVID-19, several advertisements for online order pickup and delivery were seen. Online order pickup and delivery of marijuana increases access to marijuana products, and relaxed laws may contribute to a decreased perception of risk among youth. In addition, curbside pickup at marijuana retailers arises concerns with fidelity of ID checks, especially of minors in the car at pickup.


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Social Media and Website Content

The use of marijuana marketing in social media plays a huge role in youth exposure. Even though many marijuana-related websites require viewers to verify they are old enough to legally use the product, such verification processes are absent from social media. As young people use social media for a variety of reasons, it is important to gauge the risk-related messages displayed on social media and what may be associated with the normalization of these risky behaviors by being exposed to them online.

As part of the M-VAPE Survey, the online presence of marijuana retailers in Thurston County were analyzed through their website content and social media content posted between July 1, 2020 - December 31, 2020 on the eight most popular social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn. The presentation below highlights some common themes observed.


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Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department

Disease Control and Prevention Division

Epidemiology, Assessment, and Planning Section