Clarity in marijuana prevention

Frances M. Harding, director of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, issued this important reminder about how federal dollars may be spent to promote “clear and consistent prevention messages” about marijuana to the general public.
We have pasted the full text here. We also invite you to review Harding’s open letter, posted here online.

What is SAMHSA’s position on marijuana and the use of federal program dollars to prevent its use among youth and young adults? Simply put, SAMHSA wholeheartedly supports efforts by its grantees and stakeholders to promote clear and consistent prevention messages about the dangers and levels of risk around marijuana to parents, youth, young adults, community members, and the general public.
SAMHSA’s number one strategic priority is the prevention of substance abuse and mental illness. This includes conducting public education activities and raising public awareness of the dangers of marijuana’s effects on the youth of our nation. SAMHSA encourages its grantees to work with the experts in the fields of research, programming, and training to develop effective prevention messages as well as implement evidence-based prevention strategies to address youth marijuana use.
It is also SAMHSA’s responsibility to ensure all programs receiving federal funds use these funds in accordance with federal grant guidelines and not use these funds for activities that would violate federal law. This is why SAMHSA has sent out messages to remind all grantees to comply with the terms and conditions of their awards. Specifically, recipients of federal grants are prohibited from lobbying before Congress or state legislatures, including but not limited to activities designed to influence enactment of proposed or pending federal or state regulations, administrative actions, Executive actions, and referenda. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has implemented regulations describing prohibited and exempt activities.
After reviewing some of the questions from SAMHSA’s grantees on this issue, the confusion seems to be around the timing of prevention efforts and upcoming ballot initiatives in the states. SAMHSA does not prohibit the use of any qualified professional to join grantees in their efforts to educate the public, train its workforce, or consult in strategic planning for educational efforts on the health effects of youth marijuana use. Here are selected examples of educational activities some of the states have used:

  • Education summits
  • Community awareness events
  • Staff and community training
  • Sharing information with state and community leaders around appropriate messaging for marijuana education

SAMHSA encourages state and community organizations work together to ensure their educational events are not mischaracterized as any violation of state or federal laws. Educational strategies regarding substance abuse, including marijuana use, are a part of the continuum of prevention programming efforts. SAMHSA supports the continued discussion and conversation around the health effects of youth marijuana use and its impact on communities.

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