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New Watchdog Tool Puts Power Back Into the Community

two men lay on the sidewalk barely conscious after a bar fightFor over a year now, California state leaders have been calling for alcohol deregulation, framing it as an emergency measure to keep bars and restaurants afloat. Now, as the state slowly claws its way out of the pandemic-induced chaos, legislators are trying to make these "emergency" measures permanent. These "regulatory relief" policies--including app-based delivery of cocktails, service area pushed out into public space, and vastly expanded bar footprints--have one intention: to increase the amount of alcohol consumed in California.

This is a reckless and craven appeal to Big Alcohol lobbyists, and utterly unconcerned with the harms that befall the public. But the community has always had a way to talk back, by registering complaints about alcohol bars, restaurants, and stores to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). However, many residents are not aware they have this power and right. To help directly connect our neighbors to ABC, Alcohol Justice has created the ABC Online Complaint Portal. This portal allows anyone to submit a complaint directly to ABC.

In addition, we have compiled a Field Guide to Regulatory Relief. Designed to work hand-in-hand with the complaint portal, the Field Guide lets residents know their experiences are not just pet peeves--they are real violations of the obligations alcohol-selling businesses have to be good neighbors.

We know what harms arise from uncontrolled alcohol sales. As alcohol taxes and regulations are slashed across the country, we are experiencing a spike in every indicator of alcohol overuse. Fatal liver disease has been on the rise for 20 years; alcohol use disorder for 30. California has seen steady increases in fatal DUIs, and reviews of death certificates find a 50% increase in the rate of alcohol-related deaths since 1999. Alcohol-related mortality is the major cause of preventable deaths among adolescents, being a deciding factor in motor vehicle crashes, homicides, and suicides.

Yet, as a California resident, you do not need to have witnessed death to have a right to complain about a venue. Noise, litter, violence or threatening behavior from patrons, reckless outdoor alcohol advertising, disregard for laws regarding sales to minors or minors on the premises--these are all good reasons to file a complaint using our portal. Complaints can be anonymous, or you can leave your name if you would like ABC to follow up with you.

This is not even a matter of taking the power back. The power has always been yours. Despite what many in the legislature would have us believe, selling alcohol is a privilege, not a right. Those who embrace it have an obligation to look after their patrons and communities, not just their bottom lines.

The Worst Companies In America Make a Move on Marijuana

Some industries have made a name for themselves by being the best at being the worst. They sell products with a known body count, they have undermined science with fake experts, and they have bullied and manipulated legislatures into low-oversight, low-tax schemes that crippled public health response for a century or longer. And now they want in on the newest legal drug market—marijuana.

In mid-March 2021, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation was launched, funded and overseen by a coalition of companies that include representatives from Big Alcohol (Constellation Brands and Molson Coors) and Big Tobacco (Altria, formerly Philip Morris). The Coalition explicitly states its intention to “guide cannabis legalization and regulation at the federal level.”

This is not a philanthropic effort. In-house industry documents show that the tobacco industry has been planning for the legalization of marijuana for the past fifty years, hoping to use it to boost flagging tobacco sales. Meanwhile, Constellation has already moved aggressively into the marijuana industry, obtaining a significant stake in medical marijuana brand Canopy. Molson Coors has also already forged a partnership with marijuana companies to develop a line of CBD products.

The Coalition touts its expertise in “regulatory and enforcement structures, state and legacy systems, financing and minority capital access, tax policy, criminal justice reform, [and] social equity … .” These are not empty claims. For over a century, Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco have created lasting harm in each of these domains. They have undermined regulatory schema. They have consolidated small companies to create transnational behemoths. Through endless lobbying and bottomless campaign coffers, they have crippled community abilities to offset harms by raising alcohol or tobacco taxes. By shifted liability for alcohol harms away from the companies and sales environments and on to individual consumers, they have made it cripplingly difficult to hold businesses accountable. Both alcohol and tobacco companies have invested billions in targeting ethnic, racial, and sexual minority groups.

In short, in every single one of these domains of expertise, Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco have mastered the art of increasing harm.

Responsible marijuana legislation simply cannot coexist with Big Alcohol or Big Tobacco’s interests. In terms of preventable causes of death worldwide, tobacco and alcohol use have rank first and third, even during the height of the opioid crisis. Even above the simple profit motive, evidence shows that mixing these industries with marijuana increases harms from the latter. Recent studies suggest that using alcohol with marijuana substantially increases the level of intoxication versus using either alone. Similarly, tobacco and marijuana co-users have a tougher time quitting either. This Coalition must either ban alcohol and tobacco interests, or make it clear where their interests lie: in making money and burying bodies.

READ MORE about the need to keep Big Alcohol out of the marijuana industry.
READ MORE about the lobbying power of Big Alcohol.


GUEST VOICES: 2020 Fails to Supply the Demand for Opioid Treatment

By Ramón Castellblanch, PhD

a stack of single-dose suboxone tabletsThe COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the opioid epidemic, both in terms of supply and demand. In terms of the supply, we took a terrible hit in the number of programs to fight it. As of September, their revenues were down by over 20%. With those losses, more than half of these programs were not sure that they’d still be operating this spring.

At the same time, demand for substance use disorder (SUD) treatment skyrocketed under the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last three quarters reported, California’s opioid dashboard shows that opioid overdose deaths rose from 882 in the final quarter of 2019 to 1,255 in the second quarter of 2020, an increase of over 40%.

On the bright side, the state of California took some serious steps toward addressing the crisis. Its most notable achievement was in the area of funding SUD treatment. The enactment of SB 855 means that private insurers must cover it. At this beginning of this year, the state Department of Managed Health Care has directed the insurers to submit forms documenting their compliance by February 1.

Read more ...

CAPA Hears the WHO

Global Health Organization Calls on Allies to Craft New Plan for Stopping Alcohol Harm

The world works together to control alcohol harmAs Big Alcohol expand its reach across every continent, international cooperation becomes critical to protecting public health. No organizations have the capacity for coordination that the World Health Organization (WHO) does, and it is promising that they have identified alcohol harm as a priority. For over a decade, the organization has relied on a Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol and targeted a 10% reduction in member states’ alcohol consumption. Nonetheless, WHO’s own evaluators drily note that it is “unlikely” that any members states will reach that benchmark. Clearly it is time to reassess the strategy.

Conscious of this, the WHO issued a call for comment on a new iteration of the Global Strategy. Alcohol Justice and the California Alcohol Prevention Alliance were both invited to contribute. The letters of comment are attached below, but both emphasized:

1. The need for aggressive opposition towards the global alcohol industry.
2. An emphasis on social justice and equity when assessing alcohol impact and prevention, and amplifying the voices of indigenous minorities, LGBTQ communities, and other vulnerable populations.
3. CAPA and AJ project priorities, including Charge For Harm, advertising restrictions, and tighter control of products designed to promote overconsumption and youth access.

“We’re a small part of a worldwide fight,” said Carson Benowitz-Fredericks, Research Manager for Alcohol Justice, “against a very strong industry. But there are a lot of us across the globe. The WHO Global Strategy gives us a blueprint for coming together, pushing back, and saving lives.”

READ MORE – the original WHO Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol document.

READ MORE – CAPA’s comments on the WHO Global Strategy.

READ MORE – Alcohol Justice’s comments on the WHO Global Strategy.