Analysis of non-profit models of cannabis regulation

Home-grown cannabis, photo by Gerardo Colman Lerner/Adobe Stock

Gerardo Colman Lerner/Adobe Stock

What is the issue?

In Switzerland, new approaches for regulating the supply of cannabis are currently being discussed. While several models and approaches may be considered, the Swiss government was particularly interested in exploring the evidence-base concerning non-profit approaches to the supply of cannabis. Home growing, Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs), and government-run supply are some of the options in this field, but lessons may also be drawn from the regulatory experiences with other substances (e.g. tobacco, alcohol) and activities (e.g. gambling).

How did we help?

Researchers from RAND Europe and RAND were commissioned by the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health to provide an overview of non-commercial regulation models for cannabis across the world.

In particular, the research aimed to:

  • assess the governance structures and supply chain of non-profit regulatory models;
  • identify evidence related to the effect of non-profit regulatory models on the illegal market as well as public order and safety; and
  • understand which non-profit regulatory models might help to mitigate potential social and health harms associated with cannabis use.

The research not only focuses on models already implemented with regards to cannabis, but also considered theoretical proposals brought forward in this area, as well as evidence concerning non-profit regulatory models applied to other substances and activities.

What did we find?

1. There are important differences in how models for home cultivation and CSCs have been regulated and implemented throughout the world.

The report explored non-commercial models in five countries – Australia, Canada, Malta, Uruguay and the USA and found that each country, both nationally and sub-nationally, adopted a variety of different approaches to home cultivation and CSCs.

Most jurisdictions introduced restrictions on who can cultivate cannabis and how much cannabis can be cultivated. In Malta, Uruguay, and two autonomous regions in Spain, regulations were developed on how CSCs were set-up, how much cannabis they can produce, and the number of members.

2. It is possible to implement versions of government sales.

Parts of Canada demonstrate that it is possible for government agencies to sell cannabis at the retail level. While Uruguay technically doesn’t have government sales, the government controls the retail price and potency levels as well as the type of products sold.

3. In jurisdictions which offer multiple supply models, there is very little research attempting to isolate the effects of the different models.

In Uruguay, Canada and the USA (except Washington and Illinois), multiple supply models have been enacted. This makes it difficult to isolate the effect a specific model has on various outcomes of interest.

4. Rigorous outcome evaluations of alternative models to profit-maximising commercialisation of cannabis for non-medical purposes are rare but increasing.

A review of existing evidence yielded a small number of studies which focused on alternative models, and even fewer that use rigorous methods with credible control groups to measure the impacts of policy changes on public health and safety.

5. There are other non-profit models that have not yet been implemented.

As well as supply models that have already been implemented, there are also theoretical proposals that have been suggested as alternative possibilities for non-profit supply of cannabis. These other models are designed by typically drawing on the experiences of regulating other substances or potentially addictive activities.