Parents, educators, and police caution against legal marijuana

Legislative Gazette Photo by Jessica Barr
Melissa Robinson, of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, warns against legalizing recreational cannabis in New York because it would negatively affect young people and vulnerable communities.

The New York State Parent Teacher Association, with the support of health advocates and law enforcement, asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday to remove the legalization of recreational marijuana from the state budget.

Cuomo included a path to legalized cannabis in this year’s budget, which proposed taxing marijuana to pay for traffic safety, drug abuse and mental health programs, public health education, and more.

State education advocacy groups such as the PTA, the Rural Schools Association, and the Association of School Business Officials expressed concerns that legal recreational marijuana would put students’ safety and well-being in jeopardy.

New York State PTA President Lorey Zaman praised the governor for his efforts to protect young people by banning flavored vaping, expanding the Clean Indoor Air Act, and raising the legal tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21, but said that marijuana legalization would be acting “contrary” to this work.

David Little, executive director of the New York State Rural Schools Association, said the state is no more prepared to implement marijuana legalization than it was last year.

“[We have] none of those programs and services that are needed to prevent marijuana from infiltrating the schools,” Little said. “New York has a moral and legal obligation to do the right kind of groundwork before it legalizes this drug.”

Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol expressed concerns echoed throughout law enforcement organizations that legalizing marijuana would lead to an increase in traffic fatalities. However, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that no significant change in traffic fatality incidents occurred after Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.

Melissa Robinson, a representative from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said that decriminalization was the right move, but that legalized marijuana would likely be marketed to vulnerable communities and children, as was the case with cigarettes and vaping.

“[Legalization] is profits over people,” Robinson said. “Criminal justice reform is expunging records and overturning convictions. It is not allowing people to earn billions of dollars off marijuana.”