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Cannabis retailers can offer a joint to people who get Covid-19 vaccine shots. A former surgeon general is warning that some perks like this could raise public health concerns of their own.
Washington state residents will be able to get a free joint when they receive a coronavirus vaccine at an in-store marijuana retailer clinic, under a promotion a board that oversees the state's recreational cannabis industry announced this week.
"Joints for Jabs," as the initiative is dubbed, is among the latest incentive programs states have launched as they try to persuade unvaccinated Americans to get the shots. Gov. Jay Inslee last week announced a slate of other incentives, including lottery cash drawings totaling $2 million.
A West Virginia vaccine incentive lottery program that will begin June 20 and run into August includes a $1.58 million jackpot and prizes like guns, custom-outfitted pickup trucks and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses. Other states kicked off similar lottery programs. Including New York, with a top cash prize of $5 million. Around the U.S., states and local governments have backed initiatives to offer perks such as beer, park passes, crawfish and sports tickets.
Anheuser-Busch said last week it is partnering with the White House on a program encouraging people to get vaccines, which is poised to involve the brewer's "biggest beer giveaway in history."
Jerome Adams, who served as surgeon general under former President Donald Trump, on Tuesday questioned the wisdom of offering incentives like alcohol, sweet treats like donuts, and lotto-style programs that are akin to gambling.
"I’m just really starting to get uncomfortable with the public health trade-offs here. And the messages we’re subtly sending our youth. Is it really worth it?" Adams tweeted.
"I’m all for incentives/rewards, and I’m not against people making personal choices to drink, but even the current Surgeon General put out a report warning about the health effects of alcohol consumption," he added. "Donuts, gambling (lottery tickets)… Are cigarettes next?"
The nation's seven-day average for new vaccine doses received peaked in April at around 3.3 million, federal data show. This week, that figure was down around 874,000. About 64% of Americans 18 and older have now had at least one shot.
There's some anecdotal evidence that different incentives have worked to varying degrees.
In late May, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine touted that the state saw vaccine uptake surge after the announcement of Ohio's so-called Vax-a-Million promotion, which features $1 million drawings. DeWine noted that from May 14-19 vaccinations in Ohio increased by 55% among adults there between ages 20 and 49 years old compared to an earlier week in the month before the program launched.
On May 19 in the state, the number of people who received their first shot of the vaccine was about 31,400. So far this month, that metric has been lower, topping out around 12,000 to 13,000 per day.
Washington's Liquor and Cannabis Board said cannabis retailers can offer free joints with vaccine shots to adult customers through July 12. The initiative is subject to certain conditions. For instance, only one pre-rolled joint per person and it must be claimed during the same visit when a person gets their shot from an at-store clinic.
The board previously allowed for businesses to offer free beer, wine or cocktails to customers with proof of vaccination.
The percentage of people in Washington 16 and older who've received at least one dose of the vaccine is around 63%.
Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.