By Sarah Ravenhall
There are many perspectives to consider when weighing the legalization of marijuana. Public opinion certainly is an element, and it appears that the politics associated with public opinion, along with promised revenue, are driving the initiative toward approval.
While roughly 60 percent of New Yorkers favor legalization by one recent measure, lawmakers would be wise to consider what voters have consistently indicated as far more important to them – their health.
In the most recent election, poll after poll found voters were most concerned about their health. It was the leading issue in the 2018 cycle.
As public health officials, New York State Association of County Health Officials are focused on the local level considerations associated with legalizing marijuana.
The experience of other states, where traffic deaths and emergency room visits have increased significantly, shows that legalizing recreational marijuana could adversely impact a great many New Yorkers. Therefore, a great many questions must be answered before proceeding.
• How will we protect people from drivers under the influence of marijuana? What will be the impairment standard? How will it be enforced?
• THC remains in the breast milk of mothers for up to six days. How will we protect infants and children from unintentional exposure?
• New York has been an aggressive anti-smoking state, establishing the Clean Indoor Air Act and spending tens of millions to curtail smoking. How is legalizing smoking marijuana consistent with both the spirit and technical implementation of that act?
• Brightly colored edibles shaped and/or packaged like candy have strong appeal to children. How will we keep these forms of the drug out of the hands of children?
• Marijuana use significantly increases the likelihood of addiction to other drugs. What resources will be made available to address the care needs of a new class of persons living with drug addiction?
County health officials have seen up close the devastation associated with the abuse of legalized prescription opioid medications. While the addictive risk is different, we are very concerned that the legalization of marijuana will similarly result in unintended, harmful consequences for countless New Yorkers.
As a representative of those sworn to protect their communities from preventable illness and harm, NYSCAHO remains opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana, and we implore lawmakers to proceed thoughtfully to address the concerns we and others have expressed.
Sarah Ravenhall is executive director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials.