Recreational marijuana risks outweigh rewards, says Sheriff’s Association

Photo courtesy of the new York State Sheriffs’ Association

The New York State Sheriffs’ Association recently held a series of press conferences across the state to express their opposition to the  idea of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York, one of the governor’s goals for 2019.

Nearly a dozen law enforcement groups, along with health officials and other concerned organizations, held a press conference in Albany on Feb. 7, urging lawmakers to take it slow as they consider legalizing recreational marijuana this session, and warning them about the many dangers that they foresee.

One of the significant reasons for a state to consider legalizing recreational marijuana, and one that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is actively promoting, is a new revenue stream through sales taxes.

However, Executive Director of the Sheriff’s Association, Peter Kehoe, warned that we “should not be seduced by the promise of revenue streams… as we have seen from other states, it is a false promise.”

John Corlett, legislative committee chairman of the Automobile Association of New York, said that AAA is concerned about a potential increase of impaired drivers if recreational marijuana use becomes widespread.

Corlett notes that “in 2015 and 2016, more fatally injured drivers in New York were testing positive for drugs rather than alcohol.”

Rob Maciol, president of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, agrees, saying that “people will die” while driving under the influence of marijuana.

Other officers added that it will be more difficult to determine the state of the driver when marijuana is consumed than it is when alcohol is consumed. There are currently no roadside tools or devices being used in New York that can determine how much marijuana the driver has consumed, or when they consumed it.

Officers also raised concerned about K9 units that have already been trained to sniff out marijuana. All these units will either have to be retired or put to other uses.

John Aresta, president of the New York State Association of the Chiefs of Police, points out that half of the K9 units in the state are trained to detect marijuana, and they would have to replace all those dogs if marijuana becomes legalized.

He added that specially trained dogs such as these cost approximately $9,000 each, even before training and other expenses. Replacing the current dogs would become a very costly operation for police departments and it would take about 5 years for them to retrain.

Luke Niforatos, the Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Adviser at Smart Approaches to Marijuana, shared what he experienced during the legalization process as a former Colorado resident.

“I’m here today as someone who has lived legalization firsthand,” said Niforatos. “When we were sold legalization we were told that this would regulate it, that this would protect our kids, this would bring in revenue, this would get rid of the black market, this would be all about public safety, and of course, this would solve social justice. All of these promises turned out to be empty.”

He also mentioned that companies were blatantly advertising to younger audiences in their marketing approaches. No child, or adult, was safe from the second-hand smoke that swept the city almost immediately. Pregnant mothers were being recommended high potency marijuana to cope with the nausea and stress of bearing a child.

Although it is no secret, Luke also pointed out that the biggest advocates for the legalization of recreational marijuana are big tobacco and pharmaceutical companies. If the marijuana industry continues to grow as it is now, these companies will have much larger profits and more power, something that should concern everyone.

The consensus among the organizations was clear. As Peter Kehoe said, “the risks of the legalization of recreational marijuana largely outweigh the rewards.”