Health department plans to pilot marijuana lockbox program

A lockbox similar to the one pictured will be what the county health department will distribute to a marijuana retailer or retailers as part of a pilot program. Photo courtesy of Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department

Marijuana is legal in Washington, and likely to stay that way, so the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department wants to be one small part of a growing effort to keep weed out of the reach of underage youth.

Empowered with a grant from the state Department of Health, Tutrecia Baker, program manager for the county health department’s youth prevention initiative, along with her team, plan to begin partnering with prevention-minded cannabis retailers after July 1.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to work with retailers,” said Baker. “We will be partnering with a particular store to pilot lockboxes. The conversation we’ll be having will be around safe storage (of marijuana) and the goal is to have that be the community norm.”

Baker said that just like parents will lock away their liquor, their prescription drugs, their guns, and their ammo, she said parents should treat marijuana no differently and store that away from children.

“We want that to be part of the community agenda,” said Baker.

Baker said that fortunately, from community conversations the department has had already, it appears many cannabis prevention retailers are already prevention-minded. She said a pilot program would involve the distribution of lockboxes to a participating retailer, and for that retailer to provide the lockboxes to customers for free.

A new law passed in April 2017, sponsored by State Rep. Dan Griffey (R-Shelton), made it legal for counties to distribute marijuana lockboxes to retailers. It was inspired by Mason County, which had a surplus of lockboxes and no legal means to distribute. Surprisingly, so far, no counties have embraced the new law, except for Mason, which in 2017 distributed 350 lockboxes to retailers. Many counties cited a lack of funding attached to the bill that gave no incentive to counties to purchase and distribute.

It’s this law that is enabling the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to act. On July 1 the department received a $308,758 grant from the state health department, representing the first year in a two-year grant cycle. That grant helped the county department collaborate with more than 30 community partners, including schools, on a community assessment that informed a strategic plan addressing prevention of marijuana use by youth.

Starting July 1, 2018, with the help of the second-year grant from the state, Baker’s team will partner with a marijuana retailer or retailers, in addition to rolling out a media campaign, educating community leaders, and providing training around marijuana-use prevention to youth organizations.

A previously successful marijuana-use prevention program facilitated by the county health department was via a $5,000 grant issued to MultiCare Mary Bridge Hospital in 2017, which enabled Mary Bridge to distribute 70 marijuana lockboxes to parents during healthy-home environmental assessments, and also to staff of Women, Infant, and Children (WIC), the federally-funded supplemental nutrition program.

“We look forward to continuing to work with our community partners,” said Baker.

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