Both houses of the New York State legislature approved a standalone bill to legalize marijuana and establish a commercial market for its sale. The bill now heads to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has promised to sign it into law.
Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and its New York State affiliate, SAM New York, released the following statement in response:
“First and foremost, we are proud of the work our coalition of public health and safety professionals, teachers, parents, and concerned citizens put forth in this fight. When the idea of legalization was floated several years ago, we were told legalization would fly through the legislature. Against all odds and despite being drastically outspent, we successfully defeated it year after year. Perhaps needing a political distraction during an extremely challenging year, regrettably, the governor and legislative leaders finally caved to the interests of Big Marijuana over the best interest of New Yorkers.
“This bill will lead to greater second and thirdhand smoking harms and will expose small children to levels of THC that are damaging to their brains. Even if you believe in the right of adults to smoke a joint, this is a very bad bill. Public possession of up to roughly two hundred and fifty joints will be legal, which is more than double the allowable amount that is legal in the overwhelming majority of states with a ‘legal’ market. Incredibly, the use of marijuana will now be legal in areas where cigarette smoking and vaping are currently banned.
“This bill will exacerbate our state’s drug crisis. It does not implement any limit on THC potency, a commonsense public health guardrail that many states, including Colorado, are considering following the leadership of places like Vermont. The increased use of today’s highly potent forms of marijuana, such as vapes and concentrates which commonly feature upwards of 99% pure THC, has been linked to potentially severe damages to mental health.
“The bill is bad for localities. While we are pleased to see the bill allows for some semblance of local control in allowing towns and municipalities to opt-out of commercialization by banning marijuana storefronts and on-site consumption of the drug, it is discouraging that towns are only allowed a period of nine months to pass such ordinances.
“The bill is bad for road safety. While it is good to see lawmakers retreat from prior reports that the bill would downgrade marijuana-impaired driving to a simple violation from a misdemeanor, it is still abhorrent that they would admit legalization leads to an increase in impaired driving but move forward without a standard for impairment. This oversight will result in tragedy.
“The bill will not fill funding needs and will be a net loser. That only 20% of what little revenue this law would bring in would go towards funding treatment facilities and public educations programs is just one more example of how poorly thought out and reckless this proposal is. We know from a multitude of lessons learned the hard way that legalization results in more young people viewing the drug as being safe and therefore using the drug at increased rates. This is even more concerning once we factor in the fact that a study released this week found that teenage marijuana users have double the prevalence of a use disorder (addiction) than nicotine, alcohol, and, in most categories of users, even prescription drug misusers.
“We are not finished with our work. Moving forward, we will seek to help towns and communities exert local control over the marijuana industry and enact opt-out provisions. We will also work diligently to catalog and expose harms and underhanded actions taken by the marijuana industry and hold lawmakers who supported this accountable.”