Wood County Health Coalition: Limiting Youth Access to THC Products

At a glance

The Wood County Health Coalition is working to limit youth access to marijuana.

Delta-8 products displayed in the front of a convenience store. Photo credit: Wood County Health Coalition

Wood County Health Coalition

In 2022, Wood County, Wisconsin was the first county in the state to pass an age restriction of 21+ to purchase psychoactive hemp-derived cannabinoids, including delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This policy change was a result of efforts by the Wood County Health Coalition (WCHC) to show the risk of these products to youth in the community.

WCHC members first reviewed quantitative survey data available. According to the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS), between 2017 and 2021, the number of high school students who tried marijuana before the age of 13 almost tripled from 5.8% in 2017 to 17% in 2021.1 Also, a survey conducted by the Wood County Health Department found that 61% of high school students in South Wood County, Wisconsin, felt there is no risk or only a slight risk associated with smoking marijuana once or twice a week in in 2019.1

To complement these quantitative data, WCHC members gathered qualitative data through:

  • Interviews with local school staff, law enforcement, and healthcare professionals to assess youth accessibility to THC products,
  • An environmental scan at convenience stores, gas stations, vape shops, and small markets such as local health food stores to gather information on the type of delta-8 products sold and the proximity of these locations to places young people frequently visit like schools, churches, bus stops, and recreation centers, and
  • An online scan of social media pages of smoke/vape shops to gather details about what they were selling and how they promoted the products.

Results from the interviews indicated increases in THC products in schools and in the community. The Wood County school superintendent shared how he observed a drastic increase in the use of THC vapes among students at school between 2020-2022. A local school resource officer reported a high amount of THC/delta-8 being found in his school, and local healthcare professionals shared that an infant was admitted into the emergency room with delta-8 poisoning.

WCHC public health strategist Jacob Wagner stated, "We took pictures of products being sold directly above a candy stand at a convenience store, children playing outside for recess across the street from a smoke shop with a cannabis leaf logo, and NERDS Ropes sprayed with delta-8 THC sold in its original packaging with a delta-8 sticker added" as part of the environmental scan.

WCHC members brought interested parties together, including the sheriff, a school superintendent, school resource officer, and partner coalitions to discuss the challenges. Coalition leaders spoke about the similarities in packaging of products that contain delta-8 and products that don't. They also shared the need for more visible signage to increase awareness of age restrictions for purchases. Community members in attendance shared their experiences with delta-8.

Thorough assessments of local data and collaborations with key working partners such as school staff, law enforcement, and healthcare professionals made all the difference in educating community members on the impact of proposed policy changes. Warning letters and test results for cannabidiol- related products issued by the Food and Drug Administration assisted in educating policy makers in Wood County, WI.2 These combined efforts paved the way to raising awareness about psychoactive hemp-derived cannabinoids and protecting youth.

With the support of local law enforcement, school administrators and community members, the coalition presented the findings of their assessment to the Wood County Board of Supervisors. The presentation included the risks associated with cannabis use among youth, including delta-8 THC, and the local data collected by the coalition about decreases in risk perception and the increased availability and accessibility of delta-8 THC in the community – especially where youth tend to congregate.

On August 23, 2022, the Wood County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a local ordinance regulating the sale and possession of hemp-derived cannabinoids by juveniles within certain areas where youth tend to congregate. Jacob Wagner says, "It is the biggest win we've had for our coalition so far. We could not have done it alone."

Wood County, WI Ordinance: (e) Hemp-derived cannabinoids shall not be sold within 750 feet of a hospital, church, or youth-serving organization such as, but not limited to: childcare centers, pre-schools, public or parochial schools, tribal schools, playgrounds, city or county parks, sporting arenas, or organizations with specific interest to serve children (Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Head Start, etc.) The distance shall be measured by the shortest route along a designated roadway or walking path from the main entrance of the youth-serving business/organization to the premises selling hemp-derived cannabinoid products. The prohibition in this section does not apply to businesses selling hemp-derived cannabinoids prior to July 31, 2022. The prohibition in this section does not apply to businesses selling hemp-derived cannabinoids prior to July 31, 2022.3

Wood County made history as the first county in the state to pass an ordinance like this, and the coalition is already working with other local municipalities to share their success in bringing attention to this issue. The coalition's current and future focus is to be more proactive in preventing the sale of substances like delta-8 to children and adolescents to reduce and prevent youth substance use.

  1. Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). https://dpi.wi.gov/sspw/yrbs. Accessed December 14, 2023.
  2. Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products | FDA. Accessed January 18, 2023.
  3. Wood County Ordinance #236 Prohibition of Possession of Marijuana, Synthetic Cannabinoids and Drug Paraphernalia. https://www.co.wood.wi.us/Departments/Clerk/Ordinances/236%20-%20Prohibition%20of%20Certain%20Drugs.pdf. Accessed January 18,2023.