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Perceptions About Cannabis Following Legalization Among Pregnant Individuals With Prenatal Cannabis Use in California

As rates of prenatal cannabis use increase and cannabis legalization spreads across the US, studies are needed to understand the potential impacts of legalization from the perspectives of pregnant individuals who use cannabis. To characterize pregnant individuals’ perspectives on legalization of cannabis for adult use in California (effective in 2018) in relation to prenatal cannabis use behaviors and beliefs. This qualitative study was conducted in Kaiser Permanente Northern California, a large health care system with universal screening for self-reported cannabis use at entrance to prenatal care. Eighteen semistructured focus groups were conducted from November 17 to December 17, 2021, using a secure video conferencing platform with Black and White pregnant participants who self-reported cannabis use during early pregnancy. Data were analyzed from March to June 2022. Video-recorded interviews were transcribed and analyzed using thematic analysis to identify major themes and subthemes. Among 53 participants (mean [SD] age, 30.3 [5.2] years), 23 (43%) identified as non-Hispanic Black and 30 (57%) identified as non-Hispanic White; 16 participants (30%) reported continued cannabis use at the time of recruitment. Major themes regarding the perceived impact of legalization included easier access (via retailers and delivery), greater acceptance (including reduced stigma and more discussions about prenatal cannabis use with health care practitioners), and trust in cannabis retailers (including safety and effectiveness of diverse products sold and perceptions of cannabis retailer employees as knowledgeable, nonjudgmental, and caring). Responses were mixed about whether retailer marketing and advertising were associated with prenatal cannabis use and whether legalization resulted in reduced concerns about Child Protective Services involvement. The findings of this qualitative study suggest pregnant individuals perceive cannabis legalization as having reduced barriers to prenatal cannabis use and that legalization has created challenges and opportunities for supporting the health of pregnant individuals. The results of this qualitative study highlight key areas that can be further explored in future educational materials, public health campaigns, and policy adaptations to address increasing rates of prenatal cannabis use.

Authors: Young-Wolff, Kelly C; Mian, Maha N; Iturralde, Esti; et al.

JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Dec 01;5(12):e2246912. Epub 2022-12-01.

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