Parents group, police and doctors make plea to remove recreational cannabis from budget plan

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With the legalization of recreational marijuana all but a certainty in the state budget, a coalition of parents, police and doctors is urging the Legislature to remove the issue from budget negotiations.

In an open letter to lawmakers, the organizations say legalization and commercialization of recreational marijuana creates a serious public and child health threat and sends a mixed message to young people that using recreational marijuana is acceptable.

Legalization of recreational marijuana would further strain the public health workforce and professionals who are responding day and night to the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter states.

“We need to take a cautious approach to protecting public health infrastructure in New York state,” reads a letter penned by the Medical Society of the State of NY, the New York State Parent Teacher Association, the Rural Schools Association, the Association of Chiefs of Police, the State Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of County Health Officials and Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the serious crisis of youth vaping and the continuing opioid epidemic, this harmful legislation is counterintuitive.

The group points to a slew of data they say should serve as a warning to parents and public health professionals, some it pulled from California, which legalized adult-use recreational cannabis in 2016, and other states where legalization has been approved in recent years.

For example:

  • A new report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that children in California are significantly more likely to use marijuana since its legalization there in 2016.
  • Data from more than three million 7th, 9th, and 11th grade students who participated in the California Healthy Kids Survey from 2010-2011 through 2018-2019 school years revealed a “significant increase” in marijuana usage. This data revealed an 18% increase in the likelihood of lifetime marijuana use and a 23% increase in past 30-day usage since California legalized marijuana. The researchers concluded that legalization likely presented increased opportunities for adolescents to obtain marijuana, and specifically pointed to increased availability of non-smoking marijuana products such as edibles.
  • Further, Nevada and Oregon saw similar trends: once legalized, youth marijuana usage significantly increased when analyzing data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  • In Colorado, the annual rate of marijuana-related emergency department visits increased by 62% from 2012 to 2017 and marijuana-related poisoning hospitalization rates in Colorado rose by 143% from 2012 to 2017 (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2019).
  • In Colorado, toxicology reports of adolescent suicide victims show increased marijuana usage, and marijuana has been linked to schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
  • In Colorado after legalization, marijuana impaired driving deaths went up 150%.
  • The Children’s Hospital of Colorado outlines the dangers of “Acute Marijuana Intoxication” and discusses the harm of child overdoses, usually as a result of ingestion of edible forms of marijuana (gummy bears, brownies and lollipops).
  • A recent systematic review and meta-analysis in JAMA Psychiatry (2019) of 11 studies including more than 23,000 individuals, found that adolescent cannabis consumption was associated with increased risk of developing depression and suicidal behavior later in life, even in the absence of a premorbid condition.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed legalized recreational cannabis as part of his legislative agenda and budget proposal back in January, saying it would create more than 60,000 new jobs, spurring $3.5 billion in economic activity and generating more than $300 million in tax revenue, once fully implemented.

He, and other supports, also argue that legalizing recreational marijuana would create a more fair and equitable justice system and it would also direct new funding to communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted for decades by the war on drugs.

But the coalition opposed to legalized cannabis argues that an increase in marijuana use would be “highly taxing” upon all law enforcement agencies, especially with regards to detecting Driving While Ability Impaired by drugs (DWAI), where the intoxicating agent is marijuana. Unlike a case of Driving While Intoxicated involving alcohol, there is no drug testing procedure or device equivalent to a breath chemical alcohol test.

Further, in difficult financial times for many municipal governments and police agencies, K-9 units which are trained for drug detection would all have to be replaced, as they are all trained to detect marijuana.